Two Guiding Quotes for Healing

The dragonfly symbolizes great change, with the ability to change direction mid-flight

The dragonfly symbolizes great change, with the ability to change direction mid-flight

In my work I strive to boil things down to the underlying truths, to get at the root of the issues. We can get distracted by the surface of the situation at hand, when underneath it can always be understood simply. This simplicity can bring great relief and removes the heaviness of feeling there is a big, impossible problem to solve.

These two quotes from trauma experts speak to the essence of what happens in therapy. Becoming empowered, feeling connected, and being embodied in the present moment are central goals for all of my clients. Living in a culture of disconnection, disempowerment and being out of touch with our bodies, these core issues impact all of us at some level.

"The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections." - Judith Herman, M.S. Trauma and Recovery

We are hurt in relationship with others, and we heal in relationship with others. As a therapist I give my clients as much control as possible. I don't label them with a diagnosis that sends the message something is wrong with them. I let them know they're in the driver's seat, and I remain open to the directions they want to go. The destination is a place of empowerment, connection and embodiment in the present moment, and I only voice concern if I intuitively feel like the wheel is steered away from that place. However, I don't know where on the map that destination lies! On a deeper level, only the client knows if the goals of therapy will be met in Las Vegas or Austin or New York City. Many people think therapists give advice, but it's quite the opposite. I sit in the passenger's seat, teaching you tools to access your internal GPS and make your own decisions. 

"For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present." - Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. The Body Keeps the Score

Without involving the intelligence of the body to heal, it will keep automatically sending you the same old signals that got wired in the past. When I first heard the word "embodied," I didn't know what it meant, but I liked the sound of it. I have since learned that there is no separation between our body, mind and spirit. When we are connected into our bodies and present to what is happening, we gain the ability to shift our emotional state from a negative feeling to a positive feeling. This is a superhuman ability in our culture. There is no more reason for suffering, because we have found the internal switchboard. When past trauma is healed, we become connected to our body and learn it is safe to feel whatever comes up. Over time, it becomes simple to pause and notice what subtle events have upset us and gently soothe that disturbance as it happens, continuing on with the day with calmness, confidence and ease. 

With connection with others in place, we also have access to seeking the presence of others for comfort. We have healed the past trauma and know it is safe to reach out, and we've identified who those secure attachment figures are who we can reach for. With a sense of embodiment, we can more deeply and richly luxuriate in this gift, the present moment experience of love and connection. Loving eye contact, warm touch, and kind words are available from friends or family because you've done the work and taken the action steps to have this connection in your life. There is no reason to suffer alone, and you learn that even when you are physically alone in your room, energetically you are never alone. You are loved. It really does become as simple as that.

How to Listen

Now that I've covered Things You Are Doing that Are Not Listening, I'm going to get into how to actively listen to somebody. Although the first post is enlightening I didn't want to leave you hanging! It kept sticking out in my mind, I told people how not to listen, now I need to complete the information and let you know how to actually go about listening, too.

You may have heard of active listening, practicing it in a training at work or a couple's workshop. It's basically a way of letting the speaker know that you are hearing them, so that person feels good inside and understands that you get them. It prevents arguments from popping up or the speaker continuing to rephrase and repeat themselves over and over again because they think you don't understand. It's a frustrating loop to get caught up in.

The first major rule in the following list is to remember that you are LISTENING! So even though you are saying things to let the speaker know you are listening, you aren't inputting a lot of your own thoughts and ideas into the mix at first. You aren't trying to fix any problems or convince the speaker of anything. You are giving them the gift of being truly present for what they are sharing with you, putting your judgments and ideas to the side, and holding space for another person. This creates intimacy and connection as the speaker feels deeply felt and heard. Ideally, either from already having the skill set of listening or learning from your generous example, this person will then take a turn and actually listen to what you have to say as well.

Paraphrasing - This is the biggest major tool in active listening. Simply repeat back what the person said in your own words. It stops conflict in its tracks because what you're saying is in total agreement. It can also clarify miscommunication on the spot. It's even therapeutic for the speaker, the psychologist Carl Rogers once experimented with doing pure paraphrasing as a form of talk therapy and it helped the clients to find their own answers within. Some ways to try out starting your paraphrasing sentences are, "So what you're saying is..." "In other words..." "So you basically felt like..." "Do you mean...?"

Clarifying - Ask questions specifically about what is being said. Your intention in listening is to fully understand, and you might need more background info. Sharpen your focus and ask questions when the speaker is vague or speaking in general terms. Put yourself into their shoes and ask about any details that are missing - what did they think or feel. This sends a clear signal that you are interested and willing to work on getting to know them.

Giving Feedback - Now it's time to share your thoughts! Mindfulness practice will help you notice when parts of you are being reactive so you can stop yourself from arguing or being defensive. Giving feedback is the healthy, assertive way of sharing your internal reactions. Start with checking your perceptions. You may have noticed the speaker saying one thing and their body language saying something different. Good feedback is honest, supportive and immediate. It doesn't work out so well if you tell it to the person later. Examples include, "From what you said, I wonder if [...] could be what's really going on," or "I get the feeling something's missing, maybe something you're not telling me?" or a more positive example, "You are a badass. I'm so inspired by you!"

Listening with Empathy - This skill means keeping at the forefront of your mind that this is a human being you are listening to, no one is perfect, and this person is doing the best they can. If you feel upset by someone's choices, ask yourself what it is that they are trying to survive, and remind yourself that their anger, criticism, or self-pity is just a reactive pattern they are stuck in. The only thing that will help them get out of it is the space inherent in an empathetic and compassionate interaction. If you're caught in a struggle of trying to save the person, convince them of a solution, or you're just pissed off, you're not in alignment with empathy.

Listening with Openness - Meaning openness to ideas you disagree with. Nearly everyone has trouble with this. Opinions and beliefs are closely tied to self-esteem. Being wrong can be equated with being stupid or worthless. No one wants to see their beliefs torn down, or believe that someone you don't like has said something valuable. If it helps you can pretend you are an anthropologist listening to someone from another country. They have a totally different way of thinking and talking, and before making judgments you have to put effort in to understand the complete picture and why it makes sense. When you master this skill, you are able to talk to people you disagree with and calmly find common ground. This person may have different beliefs, but you are both human after all with the main goal of having safe families and communities to live in. Be committed to understanding what was said, even if you're angry or upset.

Nonverbals - Good eye contact, leaning slightly forward, nodding, facial expressions. Adding all of this in creates a total listening package.

And there you have it! Practice and let me know how it goes. Make sure to read the first post linked at the top of this one if you haven't yet. You're all set to be an All-Star Listener and take over my job! I'm kidding - but these skills are probably 75% of what I do and the rest is just using different specific tools and techniques depending on the client.

Now that you know how to listen, in my next posts about communication I'll get into how to sbe the speaker and communicate your message clearly! 

Adapted from Messages: The Communication Skills Book


In Defense of the Kardashians


I love the Kardashians. Okay the truth of it is, I love people. All the people. And I have a pretty low tolerance level for cynicism and hate. When humans speak in a super negative or hateful manner, I have to love them from a distance.

One example of this over the years that has really bothered me is the seemingly universal hatred for the Kardashians. In podcast interviews or casual conversations, from public figures to the everyday people I encounter, people seem to think it's perfectly fine to throw out hatred for this family. And honestly if I focus in on it it's sickening to me. The people making these statements for the most part have never even watched an episode. Me? If I had the time and DVR to make it easy for me I would see every single one, as it stands I've probably seen 75% of the episodes. As I like to say, "I keep up with them."

Kim, Kylie, Kris - they're just people. I realize the show is scripted and there is a lot of acting, but they are also real human beings living their lives. They give birth to real human babies, suffer as loved ones struggle with substance abuse, food addiction, depression, heartbreak and divorce... I have seen enough to appreciate who they are as people and get a feeling for the underlying issues at play. They are imperfect, as all of us are. They are also all essentially good, as all of us are. They feel deep compassion, and love, and struggle with fear and profound grief. And they have the right to live their lives without judgement.

The Kardashians are not deserving of the extreme hate I have witnessed. I watch people make the ugliest twisted faces of disgust at the mention of their names, and hear the worst expletives from their mouths, as if all of the hate inside of them is suddenly pulled out and put on display. Guess what? These feelings are not about the Kardashians. They're about you. 

That hate is your shit to own, process and work through. The Kardashians are an innocent target for other people's issues. It's simple projection. You have unprocessed feelings of helplessness, rage and fear trapped inside your body, and these women are the easiest target out there. You are never going to see or speak to them in real life, and they're exposing themselves vulnerably for the public to just seize to hate on. It's the largest public and interactive display of bullying I've ever seen. And as a culture we are just letting it happen. 

The issue of hating, judging, blaming and fearing women is the real underlying meaning at play. There is major historic precedence for shunning women who are sexual, and for women to be competitive and hateful of other women. In the old Patriarchal system where men are in power and women have historically been powerless (Not being able to own land, vote, or divorce), all of that seething underlying rage had to be funneled into appropriate channels. Men who took control feared the power of women's sexuality and connection to the Earth and worked to destroy that power and knowledge by demonizing midwives, herbalists and priestesses and murdering them. 

We are still recovering from all of this history, truly it is still present as women have to raise their voices still today to say that sexual assault and harassment is not okay. Too many men don't understand the subtle sensitivities of consent and both intentionally and unintentionally behave in disrespectful and invasive ways that traumatize women. Many women still see each other as enemies and competition instead of banding together in sisterhood; this is where being "catty" and statements like "I don't like other women, I only have guy friends," come from. 

So pretty please, stop f*king hating on the Kardashians people! Both ladies and gentlemen. I see you. I promise they are not hurting you. That bottled up anger and fear inside is. Get curious about where it's coming from, and what it really means. It's bullying, and we know bullies are mean because they don't feel good inside so they choose to knock someone else down in order to feel better - hurt people hurt. We have some healing to do. 

"Big T" and "Little t" Trauma

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Ok here goes, I'm going to drop an (obvious?) bomb on you here - we are all affected as adults by our childhood trauma! Look, it's simply a fact that while our brains are growing and creating neural networks at a rapid pace, we soak up everything in our environment and start storing it away in procedural memory. We use this subconscious data to guide our choices for the rest of our lives, unless we choose to expand our minds beyond that programming. Life gives us added opportunities to make this choice - near death experiences, health issues, profound spiritual moments - but it is ultimately up to us to make the choice to grow and change. 

For many of us who have experienced clear abuse or neglect, this has always been clear. We have always known consciously that being hurt growing up leads to dysfunction. We don't deny what happened, and commit to finding answers and resolving the past instead of sweeping it under the rug or insisting it doesn't have an effect on us.

Others with abusive, chaotic or neglectful upbringings choose to deny this link and instead push themselves to "get over it." This results in fracturing of the psyche leading to a painful internal struggle as their nervous system and conscious mind does everything it can to survive and control the environment. Thankfully today it is becoming more and more accepted and known to the public that therapy or other means of addressing childhood abuse is necessary to heal and live a full life.

But what about everyone else? What if you just grew up in a "normal" happy home and can't understand why you are struggling with depression, anxiety and overwhelm? What about the millions of people who can't shake the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with them or something is wrong with the outside world that's keeping them from being happy? This is what I refer to as trauma with a lower case "t." It's a quieter, more subtle form of societal trauma affecting all of us.

You don't have to grow up neglected or abused to feel like shit all the time, be afraid to make eye contact with strangers in the coffee shop, or struggle with being able to feel relaxed and calm in your own home. We as a society have an epidemic of shame, unworthiness and disconnection. We lack the skill set for deep connection and intimacy with others. We love our family and maybe even like ourselves but we don't feel good and we don't know why. This is the subtle nature of "little t trauma" and it's impact on society. Seemingly small and acceptable instances of shame, exclusion and punishment add up to a subconscious worldview where we are never good enough. Because we have divorced ourselves from this reality as a society, we have suffered the consequence of not having the space for the natural development of a healthy inner Self. So many of us are walking around with the maturity level of a child or a teenager. Our adult Selves weren't given the appropriate space, tools or models for optimal growth. Basically, we have work to do!

In therapy I work with individuals, couples and in a group format to get at these deeper issues. I partner with my clients to strengthen the brain's ability to access their healthy core adult Self and live a life unburdened by the past. It's truly life changing, transformational work that I am honored to hold space for. I have struggled for a long time to "define my niche" in this business because it's so hard to describe this issue succinctly and put it into words. This explanation of "Trauma with a lower case t," gets a lot closer to shedding light on what exactly it is I do and how I help people.

A resource I recommend to learn more in depth about the nature of Trauma is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's book The Body Keeps the Score. As a yoga teacher I love how he includes an entire chapter on yoga, and there is also a chapter about Internal Family Systems therapy which is the approach I use to help my clients reframe their experience and begin to enact change.

I Got Issues... You Got 'em Too

Obsessed. This is one of those songs that came on the radio and the first time I heard it I got excited and turned the volume up. As a counselor I resonated with the emotional tone right away, and it brought up rich imagery of how it feels to be in relationship when you struggle with "issues."

Knowing the reality of codependent relationships and the reality of domestic violence, clearly the lyrics in this song could be taken to be pretty effed up. I haven't done a search online yet, but I'm assuming that there are plenty of blog posts about how twisted and unhealthy the lyrics are. I choose to believe that Julia is singing about a healthy relationship where she and her partner are working on their issues together in a conscious manner to reach a deeper unified state.

You don't judge me, 'cause you see it from the same point of view

I got issues, you got 'em too

So give them all to me and I'll give mine to you

Bask in the glory of all our problems

'Cause we got the kind of love it takes to solve 'em

A codependent woman singing about her delusional fantasy relationship? Sometimes that's the case. It's just as easy to believe in a real love as Julia Michaels sings, and I find myself rooting for the couple in her lyrics. I picture them as a conscious couple choosing to do the deep work together, seeking both individual and couple therapy in the process. I find the love they share to be incredibly beautiful because it's possible to experience very deep healing in relationship.

The theory goes that when we meet and fall in love, the person we choose has more or less the same level of personal development. Therefore whatever issues you have to work on, your partner will have about the same amount of past pain or trauma to process. After the honeymoon phase the underlying problems rise to the surface and you begin to see yourself displayed in your partner as a mirror. 

The line about not judging your partner is key. If you judge your partner for their "issues" then you are going to go into defensive or attacking mode, which is an unconscious expression of your fight or flight response. The prefrontal cortex is not online and you are not making compassionate or wise choices. The blood leaves the parts of your brain that know how to safely connect. This is what happens when we lose control and have cyclical fights and arguments. Nonjudgement is essential to a healthy relationship. 

Staying conscious in relationship takes work. It's a slow process to re-wire your brain and have the capacity to consciously engage the parasympathetic nervous system to stay relaxed and engage in connection. Over time it becomes easier, and you're closer to superhuman status. In the meantime, repair is paramount. When you "lose it," when your issues come to the surface or you react to your partner, step away to calm down and then come back to reconnect. Apologize. Own your mistake. Ask what you can do to make it better.

My favorite line is repeated in the chorus "We got the kind of love it takes to solve 'em" - this faith in their shared love to survive the pain and get through to the other side is a profound testament to her resilience and commitment to healing through relationship. Faith, trust and hope are necessary ingredients to a fulfilling and wholehearted life. Again, I'm choosing to believe her partner is in this with her and it is a conscious relationship working towards mutual growth and understanding. If he's not on board then yes, it's sadly a codependent illusion and there is no real connection. I maintain that healthy skeptic inside of me, but for the most part I indulge in the joy of believing people and seeing evidence of goodness in the world.

Let me know if any of this strikes a chord with you ~

Mindfulness in Disney's Little Mermaid Prequel


As a parent of young children, I get to experience a worldview that includes a whole bunch of random crap I wouldn't otherwise know about. As a therapist, I take that crap and synthesize it with my knowledge and experience both to entertain myself and connect with my child. This is how I wound up finding myself weeping uncontrollably while watching the film Ariel's Beginning with my toddler. 

First off, this is actually a decent film! I was surprised that the writer and director is a young and hip seeming woman and I'm assuming they gave her enough creative control to actually make a Disney sequel that is enriching and enjoyable to watch.

In the first few minutes of the film, I was so moved by the song that Ariel's mother sings to her daughters as they go to sleep:

And the waves roll low

And the waves roll high

And so it goes

Under the bright blue

Endless sky

Waves try to measure

The days that we treasure

Wave hello

And wave goodbye

These touching lyrics beautifully describe deep spiritual concepts from Eastern philosophy - finding an inner sense of calm, knowing that you are not your thoughts and feelings, being unmoved and thrown about by apparent storms on the surface. Above it all is an endless blue sky, ever-present and steadying and calm. 

Of course Ariel's mother Athena freakin dies in the next couple of minutes, but the lessons she taught her daughter are solid and lasting in Ariel's heart, giving her the confidence she needs to follow her heart's urging throughout the film. 

So many bloggers and commentators out there are cynical about the negative messages in Disney films. It's just as easy to see the positive, deeply meaningful and spiritual concepts clearly presented on screen. I refuse to vilify the whole Princess thing. Those are some badass bitches! You can look for evidence of dis-empowering messages or you can look for clear themes of empowerment, compassion and grit. Then you can invite a meaningful critical conversation of the different lenses and systemic elements in play. I'm getting into another blog post here - definitely stay tuned for more Disney posts, as long as I have toddlers in my midst which if a few more years at least :)

Therapy as an Invisible Art

I consider myself to be a creative person. The emotional rewards when I write something beautiful or complete a project in my home include pride and a sort of buzzing contentment, sort of like a cat purring. Making something physically visible and tangible that didn't exist before is highly satisfying to my needs for creative expression and personal competence. 

Sometimes as a therapist I find myself questioning what I'm doing, wondering if I'm really helping or being effective. Some sessions are better than others, and I know it's just part of the experience but it can be hard to accept. I have to remind myself that even though on the surface there wasn't a huge "Aha!" moment or sobbing release, I can never know the vast depth of the experience that my client had during the session. It might have seemed somewhat uneventful in my eyes while internally the client had plenty of internal insight and processing going on. It could be a session that they remember for the rest of their lives, a turning point where they became aware of their own anger or fear around a particular subject. Maybe as they drove home they reflected on how it felt a little lighter inside and realized just how much weight they've been carrying around.

And that brings me to the concept of therapy as invisible art, a form of creative expression that can be manifest as subtle and unseen. When I play music I can record it, when I journal privately or publish a book it physically exists. Fingerpainting and creating collages with gluesticks with my daughters, our creations are displayed on the refrigerator for all to see. When a client has breakthroughs in therapy and begins to make changes in their life, yes the changes are visible - more energy in their movement, a sort of light and aliveness in their eyes, more excitement and joy expressed in their tone of voice - but I don't always get to see it directly, and sometimes the process is slower than others.

For the family and friends in my clients' lives, they can see the positive changes, the increase in energy or a new sense of calm. But they might not know their loved one is even in therapy! In this case therapy truly is invisible, and the beautiful changes they are so grateful to see seemingly come from directly within the person. And that really is the truth of it, therapy is like this invisible magical force that exists in the room when I'm working with my clients, and it works to enable them to find the power within to grow and heal and make changes. All I'm doing is holding a safe and compassionate space for them to simply step into, metaphorically, invisibly. When I see their eyes light up, or that shocked look of sudden insight, or tears of gratitude or grief gently flow, I know it's happened. When I don't see these signs? I trust in the process, I trust that in that vast unknowable ocean that is the person sitting before me deep subtle shifts are happening. I honor that one-hour space and let go of fear. Like an electric current or an Autumn breeze, sometimes I can see or feel the results but I know the art I practice is never completely visible to me.

Ecstatic Dance

As a therapist, I practice what I preach.

I meditate, I practice yoga, I journal. When I described Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to a client and she asked, “Do you use this?” I answered honestly that I hadn’t used it very much but I know many people have found great relief. Then I committed to try it out along with her in the time between our sessions and I followed through. And it worked - my stress level decreased each time I used it.

So when my yoga teacher sprung an “Ecstatic Dance” on us during our teacher training, I opened myself up to the experience. If this could be a healing modality for my clients, I’m willing to be a test subject. The fact that dancing with other people brought up some of my own fears and insecurities was perfect to work with.

My teacher explained is as dancing in a meditative state, getting in touch with your body’s intuition to dictate how it wants to move. The goal is to have a moving inner experience and feel uninhibited, allowing the body to express and release however it needs to. A main element of Ecstatic Dance is also the norm to not use any drugs. When people go out to dance at public events, the freedom needed to express oneself physically can be marred by drunk or high participants. Sobriety adds a level of safety to relax and enjoy what comes up.

Lobo Marino, an earthy folk duo performed live for us. “Just listen to your body!” encouraged Laney Sullivan, the female component of the band. “If you feel the urge to open the door and run around the block, go for it!” We all laughed, the atmosphere in the room on that Sunday morning feeling warm and relaxed.

For clients with anxiety and trauma, I use whatever tools I can to get the body involved. When we regularly go into fight-or-flight or if we are experiencing chronic low-grade anxiety, the body doesn’t know how to relax completely. Breathing, meditation, guided visualization, yoga, EFT - these are all techniques to access the body’s wisdom and learn to set up a line of communication between the brain and body that communicates safety. The miracle of neuroplasticity means that every time we do this it helps to lay down new pathways in the brain. We can enjoy our daily lives and let go of the struggle to feel okay.

Dancing can bring up that anxiety or awkwardness, especially in a group of people. It involves feeling vulnerable and exposed. By bringing conscious awareness to the thoughts and feelings that come up, and practicing willingness to be in that discomfort, new pathways in the brain are forged when the anxiety dissipates. Our bodies learn that we are able to relax into something that initially felt uncomfortable. With repetition, eventually we are able to perform the previously feared task with relative ease. Then the lesson learned from this one situation, dancing, can be applied to other anxiety-provoking situations, like giving critical feedback to a co-worker.

The rules laid out, Lobo Marino began playing and the participants started gently swaying. As the music progressed, I spent a good 20 minutes or so finding my comfort zone. Every time I peeked around, everyone had their eyes closed or gazing at the floor and they were moving around in their own space. This was reassuring to me, though I had to suppress laughing too loudly because the picture did look absolutely ridiculous to me. After a few peeks I was able to keep my eyes to myself. I felt plenty of tensión in my body, and I walked around a lot trying to find my own space in the room. I wandered in the kitchen and up the stairs, but being removed from the group didn’t feel right.

A well-loved bright green beanie baby frog on the stairs caught my attention, and I picked him up and made him dance to the music with his little frog legs. This was highly amusing to me, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the silliness of it all. That frog had great moves! I finally found a space on the dance floor and placed the frog on the floor. I noticed the remaining tensión in my body and thought about how free and relaxed the toy frog had seemed to me. It felt like a big insight that I could manipulate the frog to dance and easily feel and imagine his confidence and joy, and it was harder to summon those feelings standing alone. Be like the frog, I told myself. This mantra helped me to let go and totally relax.

At that point I was able to move freely, experience pleasure in the movement and explore the memories and visualizations that came up for me. An old painful memory surfaced that involved dancing as a child, and I was able to release some long-held emotion in a gentle puddle of tears on the floor. I lifted my head and arms high as the music inspired beautiful images to come to mind, and I continued to cry tears of happiness and gratitude. A significant insight came together as I processed the images, and as the music wound down Laney began to sing directly to us an old folk song and we all joined in together.


We thank the source from which we came

You and I must be the same

We thank the source from which we came

Rivers go on flowing


The rivers go on flowing

The rivers go on endlessly

And I call your name


Our teacher invited us to sit in meditation for as long as we wanted to, and pressed for time I snuck back to my house to check in on my family. The dancing did give me a natural high - I felt deeply relaxed and the colors of the leaves and flowers looked more vibrant as I drove home. When I got in the house, music was playing in our home studio and I entered to find my three-year-old spinning in a circle with her eyes closed, arms out, dancing in her own world. She didn’t notice me and I joined in dancing next to her, and when she saw me her eyes lit up and her smile burst forth as she grabbed my hand and we twirled together.

Now that I have some personal experience I feel comfortable talking about dance as a healing form of therapy with my clients. Instead of just saying, “Oh yes, dance is therapeutic,” I have some experience to back it up and I can understand and explore their experience more deeply in an authentic way.  Dancing is human; it transcends cultures and religions. Everyone can relate to the experience of dancing and there are often memories of shame in combination with dancing that can be useful to process in therapy.

If you feel intrigued (or skeptical!) I encourage you to seek out an ecstatic dance event in your community. Try calling some local yoga studios. Bring a friend for support, or if it’s absolutely out of your comfort zone you can start by doing it by yourself at home. Find a private time where you won’t be interrupted, pick out music you love, use your reflection in the mirror if it inspires you or cover it with fabric if it’s more of a distraction. See what comes up, stay present, be curious about any feelings of discomfort or irritation. Dance for a good 45 minutes and then wind down with some stillness and contemplation. What has opened up for you? What realizations and insights came for you? This could be a one-time thing, or become a regular part of your self care practice. The goal is to know yourself better, becoming a fuller and more evolved version of you over time.

Things you are doing that are not listening

It's my job to listen. My interest and curiosity in people is natural, the drive to really know the real person underneath, but funnily enough I didn't really learn how to listen until I hit graduate school. I genuinely cared about the people in my life, and I certainly thought I was listening to them, but sometimes I wasn't. Sometimes blocks kept me from fully hearing what my friends, family and co-workers were saying. 

Now I teach my clients about these blocks too, so they can build awareness about when they're truly listening to others and when they're unconsciously reacting. Practice noticing when these blocks come up for you - do you find yourself using certain blocks with certain people? Do some blocks come up in different locations or at certain times of day? Ponder these:

Comparing - This can come up when expectations don't meet reality. You're in a situation and your mind wants to categorize and compare and contrast the information being communicated with your own experience. This is normal and okay to do, but if it gets out of control you aren't listening to what is being said because you're stuck on the fact that it's not what you expected to hear.

Mind Reading - This can veer into the realm of psychological abuse. When someone is speaking and you think you know what they're really saying or you don't believe them and you wonder what their real intentions are, there is a lack of trust that needs to be addressed. Believe people when they are speaking, at least believe that they believe what they are saying. Set your intention to understand their beliefs. Energy put into trying to figure out a hidden underlying meaning meaning or putting too much emphasis on tone or facial expression leads to negating what they're saying because you think you know what they're thinking. You don't. 

Rehearsing - If you are thinking about what you are going to say, you aren't fully tuned in and listening to what someone else is saying. Trust yourself that you will know the right words when it is your turn to speak. Jot down a quick note if you're truly afraid you're going to forget it, or say "I don't want to interrupt you, I'm afraid I'm going to forget what I want to tell you so remind me, it's about cat memes."

Filtering - Listening to the things you want to hear and filtering out the rest. This may be done consciously or you could be unaware of it. It could be a situation where you don't respect the person who is speaking, or you are using them for a particular purpose. Maybe you are only interested in your own agenda and anything else that is said you tune out because your mind is made up. It could be more innocent, in an unconscious expression of confirmation bias. You know what you know is true and you aren't interested in other options so you become blind to them. Build up your inner curiosity and critical thinking skills. Make it a habit to ask yourself every now and then, "Hmm, am I really correct about this?"

Judging - When you are listening to your internal judgments that come up, it leaves you incapable of hearing and understanding where the speaker is coming from. This becomes extra potent when an emotional reaction comes up. You're triggered and feel angry or disgusted or fearful and you start listening to your own internal monologue instead of what is being said. This is why communication can be so difficult. It's super difficult to listen to others and remain nonjudgmental. Meditate daily, practice awareness while others are speaking, and slowly you will gain control of these judgments running amok in your mind and be able to steer yourself back on course. The glass doesn't have to be judged as either half full or half empty - it's just a glass with some water in it. Set judgments aside and tune back in to what is being said. It can be helpful to give your inner critic a name and personality. When you hear him or her being judgmental, you can ask them to be quiet or mentally show them the door.

Dreaming - Ooh this one still gets me if I'm not paying attention. Especially in a workshop environment where I want to listen to the presenter, but I get so excited and invigorated with the thoughts and ideas that flow into my mind I'm catapulted over and over again into fantasies about my inspirations. Then I snap back to reality and haven't heard a single word that has been said for several minutes. Now that I have gained strength in my mind and awareness I can catch this right away and jot down a quick note to remind myself of my idea later, but this one used to be totally out of my control because even the concept of being able to pay concentrated attention when someone is speaking was outside of my awareness.

Identifying - Someone wants to tell you about their trip and it reminds you of the last time you went somewhere and the result is two people talking about their experiences and neither one is really listening to the other. Or your friend gives up trying to tell you about their trip and just listens to you, maybe feeling a little disgruntled. 

Advising - When you're giving solutions and advice, you're not listening. Focus on what is being said and wait for them to voice their own solutions or ask your advice. It's as plain as that. Think about it, do you like when you are trying to tell someone your problems and they disregard your situation and insist that you need to go with them to their favorite group fitness class? It feels like you're not connecting, cause ya ain't.

Sparring (and Discounting) - Arguing and debating. Personally this still feels like a big pet peeve of mine, yet I also catch myself doing it. My husband blames it on social media and everybody constantly arguing points back and forth these days. When two people are locked into this pattern, neither one is truly listening to the other. Communication isn't even taking place at all, the messages aren't getting through. To see if you're doing this, check and see if you have any knee-jerk reaction to argue with simple things people are saying. A friend might say "This place has really good coffee," and something inside you wants to respond with, "It's okay, it's not any better than the coffee at that other place and it's more expensive, plus the hours here suck." Comments like that seem small but are a block to communication. Your friend is just trying to express that he likes the coffee and you're raining on his parade. Is there a pattern going on? What is underneath all of this sparring? Discounting is a "nice" form of sparring where you argue when people give you compliments. You discount the positive things they say and leave them feeling unheard. Let the love in!

Being Right - This is the Ego. You believe you are right, and nothing will shake this belief. You aren't listening to what others are saying because you are defending your point of view with everything you've got. This block can typically show up when someone is giving you criticism, suggestions or feedback. The slightest criticism feels like rejection, which hurts, and you immediately jump to defending because you feel attacked. It can help here to think of a time where you really wanted to give feedback to a loved one and it felt like a confrontation and they weren't able to hear what you were saying. Assume the person speaking to you does care and has your best interests in mind.

Derailing - Also known as suddenly changing the subject. You aren't comfortable with the topic or maybe you're just bored. Sometimes this can look like cracking jokes when you feel the conversation is too serious and you want to lighten the mood and also stop the conversation in its tracks.

Placating - agreeing with everything that is being said, so you appear involved but really you are staying out of it and not putting energy into what is being said. The motivation is to look like you are present and listening but you really aren't interested or don't want to participate for whatever reason.

Be kind to yourself - everyone uses these blocks at some point. Begin by noticing them and start exploring the underlying process that's fueling it. Work your way towards setting them aside and focusing back in on what the speaker is saying, then respond actively with a question or statement about whatever it is they're talking about. Eventually you may notice a pattern where people get it all out, feel heard and appreciated by you, and then return the favor by showing interest and asking what's going on with you. Healthy relationships are reciprocal, everyone's needs are being met.

I love that I get to model these skills in my job and thus spread the feeling of being truly heard. Culturally we are living in a time where there needs to be a lot more listening going on. Listening begets empathy and understanding, which leads to the creation of positive solutions to our differences.

Wishing you well,


Thoughts that Cloud the Mind

In the midst of the metamorphosis that is my yoga teacher training experience, I recently read about the concept of Avidya, a Sanscrit word meaning incorrect knowledge or misconception. In yoga philosophy, knowledge is basically divided into two categories - that which is true and that which is not true. In this society as unconscious beings bumbling our way through life, sometimes there are moments of clarity but a lot of our time is spent focused on inaccurate ideas about the world that we take on without realizing it. Running on autopilot in this way has a high cost, and in practicing awareness or presence we gain the gift of actually experiencing and appreciating our lives instead of suffering or struggling through them.

I really appreciate this structure in looking at my own thoughts. Avidya is divided into four categories - Ego, Wanting, Rejecting, and Fear. To illustrate these concepts of incorrect knowledge, I'm going to use an example that maybe most people can relate to: the automobile. Picture the car you drive now, or one that you had in the past. Let me describe for you now my beloved 1983 Chevrolet Caprice, and how the types of incorrect knowledge impacted my experience when I owned it.

Ego - When we are identified with Ego, we believe we are right, we think we are better than others, and we don't like not getting our way. Looking back I would say there were times I was overly prideful of my Chevy Caprice. It needed paint and bodywork, and that was an outward symbol of my not being overly attached to material things. I never worried about dings or scratches and I loved that feeling, and yes my Ego felt like it was better than other people who worried about tiny scratches in their paint. My Ego was emotionally attached to that car, and was easily hurt, jumping to defend itself at the slightest insult (If you're going to call my car a hooptie it better be in a loving tone!) I'm using this example because it's fun and not too serious, so my Ego didn't bring me much pain in this example, but you could say I went a little overboard in identifying with this particular vehicle.

Wanting - I wanted to paint that car for the five years that I owned it, even taking it in several times for quotes, but I struggled to find the right way to get it done and ended up suffering the entire time from wanting something I didn't have. I spent hours exploring how to paint it myself, how to get others to help me paint it, where to pay somebody else to paint it. I had countless daydreams about different colors and finishes (Large purple flake to complement the dark red interior? Yes.) I got quotes from different places and considered making it into an art car. In the end it was all just a distraction from doing something more useful with my time, too much time spent desiring with no result except frustration and some really enjoyable fantasies.

Rejecting - This is the opposite of wanting. One thing I rejected when I had this car was the idea that it was unsafe. Many people would tell me that the car was safer because it was older, bigger, and made of steel unlike newer, cheaper plastic cars. Once a year I would take the car in to a mechanic for a tune-up and safety check, and nothing was found to be wrong. Whenever anyone suggested the car was unsafe I rejected the idea. Then one day while I was 7 months pregnant with my first child, an old, original 1983 part broke and the engine cut off and the brakes went out as I was turning onto the highway, sending my flying straight into a car idling at the red light. Was my car safe in this scenario? Technically the theory played out, I was uninjured in my big steel box and the car only had a scratch on it while the car that I hit lost it's front bumper. But if the part had broken while I was going 60mph it would have been a different scenario. In rejecting the suggestion from others that my car might have been unsafe, I didn't learn the knowledge that even though I get regular safety checks, the mechanics aren't checking every single engine part and some 30-year-old part having to do with the brakes isn't getting checked and it's bound to break at some point. And this brings us to...

Fear - After the accident, I was too afraid to drive the car anymore. Even though the broken part was found and replaced, I could not rid myself of the fear that some unknown, hidden old part could break again. Because of the accident I experienced fear driving any car on highways or bridges, which lasted for years and caused a lot of suffering because where I live bridges and Interstate highways are unavoidable. My fear had become irrational, it was incorrect knowledge and I struggled to separate myself from it. The Chevrolet sat outside my house for over a year, I got a new car (a boring, ugly, undeniably safe Honda), and I eventually sold it for much less than I felt it was worth. When I did drive it short distances in my neighborhood, the smell in the car and the feeling of being behind that big wheel brought back all the joy of driving it, but fear kept me from being able to trust the car to use it frequently and I had to let it go.

All of this internal struggle and dialogue took up so much of my time. Ego, Wanting, Rejecting and Fear in relation to this one possession in my life added to the clouds in my mind obscuring true knowledge. So what was the true knowledge about my car? The positive feeling I felt in that car was undeniable. The fact my father loved it and gave it to me represented a special bond. The laughter and pleasure it gave to others when they saw me driving that thing around felt good too. But maybe the most basic truth about this car is that it was just a car. If you strip everything else away, it was a vehicle that transported me from place to place, I appreciated having it and I felt contentment within. When that contentment ceased after the accident, I had to let it go. My new car is not aesthetically pleasing to me, but the contentment within is there, knowing that my children and I have safe and reliable transportation. My mother helped pay for it too, so it's a nice bookend to the saga of the Box Chevy.

When I get my next car though, I do want to regain that sense of joy in the car that I drive, because like the clothes we wear, cars do provide an outlet for expressing who we are. Today with the awareness I have cultivated, I have the ability to separate out the Avidya from clouding my mind. Not wasting time and energy wanting and rejecting and fearing is freeing, and feeling that spark of joy in my possessions is icing on the cake. The point isn't to reject all opulence or luxury or indulgence, it's to be content and appreciative of what we have while giving ourselves permission to enjoy what comes our way. I'm not wasting energy wanting a new car just because the one I drive today doesn't turn me on. And when it no longer serves me I will be selective in choosing a new car that does spark joy for me in some way.

Okay! That's enough about cars! Did this metaphor work for you? Can you identify the aspects of Avidya in a car you have owned? Pick out something else in your life, another possession, or a relationship, or an activity. How does Avidya cloud your mind? When you sift it all away what remains? What is the true inner knowing? If these questions touch something inside of you that you'd like to process, feel free to contact me for a session. Counseling isn't only about clinical diagnosis. Everyone can benefit from personal growth and development. I can help you to brush aside the clouds and see your true self more clearly.

Wishing you well,