I’ve been rereading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. I love the simplicity and clarity of this book and I’ve also been frustrated with the simplicity too. After his recommended step of opening one’s heart chakra no matter the circumstance, he then writes about “letting stuff go”. I have struggled with this recommendation for years. God, wouldn’t you just love to let shit go? Set your intention to “let go” and voila! When I hear this phrase I think of someone coming over and just turning a switch off on me. “Here Juanita, You’ll never have to feel that emotional about that situation again, I found the let go switch!”. Well, wouldn’t that be nice? It’s never been that easy for me and I’m guessing it hasn’t for you either. Through conversations with others I found that “letting go” actually means being fully present with whatever emotions are present and even embracing them. When I’m fully present with uncomfortable emotions, the intensity of them lessens and then I get closer to that feeling of letting something go. For some triggers in my life, I find it impossible to fully let it go, because these reactions were learned early in childhood. And just when I think I have let it go, a situation arises and I realize that there’s another layer of emotion that needs my presence. In the meditation world, this presence is often given to oneself by cultivating the witness/observer part of your Self as you feel an emotion and want to react to it. Meditation can teach us to watch ourselves instead of react. Sometimes we can see an emotion rise and fall if we sit with it long enough and our minds don’t take over. In the counselling world, there are many psychotherapeutic techniques that can help a person cultivate the wise self watching all the emotions and other parts of themselves engage with the world. But perhaps the most helpful things psychotherapy can offer is the act of presence with another as they feel their uncomfortable emotions. It can be very powerful to have another person anchoring & present as feel the depths of our pains & struggles. I’ve often found that the only way I can be present with certain uncomfortable emotions is with my own therapist. I’ve paid that person to be with me for an hour and while I could end the session early, I won’t because I’ve paid and that often helps me commit to the act of fully being present with my emotions and even embracing them. This process is closest one I’ve found to actually letting shit go. With energy healing, presence is also a valuable gift to give to others and to ourselves - fully being present as a chakra opens or shifts. Energy healing also offers techniques to help clear the blockages in our chakras which lessens the emotional intensity. Often an integrated session of both psychotherapy & energy healing can help you integrate and process things with more ease. What things have you found to be helpful or unhelpful as you try and let go of things?
Psychotherapy and Counselling Articles
Articles related to psychotherapy and counselling.
|I’ve been rereading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. I remember reading it for the first time five years ago and was in awe of Michael’s ability to capture a process towards inner peace & freedom with such clarity and simplicity. Reading this book felt like being bathed in something so pure.|
On the surface, Michael is writing about the art of meditation as a way to find freedom from our pains & struggles . He names one of the key pieces of meditative work is to open one’s heart. Many times he encourages his readers to “just keep opening and not closing [their heart]”. I remember when reading this book the first time, I was frustrated at Michael’s message of “simply open up your heart”. It has never been that easy in my experience to open my heart, especially when I’ve spent a lifetime finding reasons to keep it closed in certain situations and often for very good reason.
If you too have struggled to simply open your heart in times you really want to close it, you are not alone. Meditation is one path to cultivate awareness of when you open and close your heart, and fortunately there are others.
The essence of psychotherapy is often also to help us open our hearts. With psychotherapy I often help people to feel their emotional pain and create a new relationship with it. People engage with counselling often because opening one’s heart chakra and being present with what emerges is often met with many of our own internal resistances – the sudden urgency to do laundry, or watch Netflix, smoke a cigarette, or really do anything but feel. Then shame & self-judgment at our distraction emerges and adds another layer of protection from feeling the deeper pain.
With energy healing, attunement & techniques are used to balance and clear chakras. Sometimes the focus is on the heart and sometimes not. If you watched my Energy Healing at Home Series, the chakra series shows you a gentle way to open your chakras simply by offering your presence to each one. Today, my invitation to you is to start with awareness. Any time you notice yourself distracting yourself or pushing away or shutting emotions down, pause for a moment and notice your urge in that moment when that uncomfortable emotion arises. Often it’s anxiety, shame, sadness or anger. Notice what you do when you start to feel those emotions, even if you realize it 24 hours later. See if you can both notice the part of you that feels the pain and the other part that doesn’t want to feel it. Overwhelmed? Talk-therapy is a great way to do this in a supportive way.
Experiment with your process of being present with your uncomfortable emotions. Notice all the different parts of you that get activated when you try and sit with them in a non-judgmental way. What method do you prefer to open your heart chakra- energy healing, meditation or psychotherapy?
As always, if there’s anything else you’re curious to learn about in the energy healing world and/or how it combines with the psychological, send me a note 🙂
So, Racism. Let’s start there because it’s the most important in today’s blog. The world paid attention after the death of George Floyd, and so did I. As a white woman I’ve been spending some time reading, connecting to others, reflecting on what I need to change and starting to make some changes. This large cultural change that needs to happen starts with each of us making a change and it feels very much like a marathon goal and not a sprint.
I’ve included a few books that I’ve read in regards to racism and one of my goals has been to continue this process, so as I continue to find ones I like, I’ll recommend them in my blog on occasion.
As I’ve started to explore my own racism and support of systemic racism more deeply, it has felt heavy and overwhelming at times. I’m a person who can go deeply into heavy topics, but I need to balance it with doing things that bring me joy, pleasure, and peace. It can feel wrong to do these things when so many horrible things are happening around us, but it is very important. For me if I spend time in joy, pleasure, & peace, this allows me to continue exploring this topic of racism and spending energy on making changes. So I’ve included 2 other books today, and while neither of these books are what I would call beach reads, I wanted to include them. But please read those beach reads! I’ve been reading them too, they just didn’t make the list today.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole
- White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle
- Find Your Pleasure by Cynthia Loyst
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This was my favourite read. This book is a gift for us all in that Trevor is able to talk about his experiences with racism and oppression in South Africa with candor and humour. He talks about the complexities of racism within the black community and the racist and sexist systems built by white South Africans. Racism is not hidden in South Africa. In Canada, we like to spend time looking at other countries racism and ignoring our own. This book helped me reflect on what lies beneath the surface of our systems here in Canada. I had mixtures of laughter and tears while reading this book. You will end this book loving his mother and in awe of Trevor Noah.
The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole
If you’re a white Canadian (and especially Ontarian), if you read any book about racism, I’d recommend this one. Desmond is a black activist and writer based in Toronto, Ontario. He names how the the Canadian media consistently omits the racism happening in our own cities and country and focuses on what is happening in the USA. He details a month by month account of 2017 and racism and systemic racism he challenges in the school board, with the police, in major newspapers and provincial & federal agencies.
As a white woman I realize that I’ve had the privilege of choosing not to read the news when I don’t want to and also the privilege of feeling safe with the police and other agencies. This book was such a gift in that it wasn’t some random facebook article and you’d never find it in the big media outlets because of who owns the big Canadian Newspapers and Media. Read it! And then reflect on which systems in your life you need to hold accountable for change.
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
This is THE book that I’ve seen as recommended reading on anti-racism. Full disclosure, I haven’t read it all. It’s very helpful, but it’s written by an academic and you can tell. She has lots of videos online. I recommend this Youtube video as a start and then take this book chapter by chapter as she explains what white fragility is and how it shows up in our lives. My understanding is that white fragility shows up as a feeling of defensiveness that white people have when black people name that white people are acting racist. There are feelings of denial and shame. Robin shares how most white people aren’t racist in the conventional sense of hating black people, but that white people are complicit in keeping systemic racism in place by our silence about oppressive behaviours.
Robin asks us to notice our reaction when white or black people get angry in a large group. How do we perceive when men or women get angry in a group? Who’s the loudest? Who’s silent? Who ultimately gets heard?
I read a great facebook post that was shared through the myriad of threads that encouraged us all to reflect on the many forms of fragility in our lives – male fragility that arises with the request for equal pay among genders and the #MeToo movement, or the extensive heterosexual fragility when homosexuals were asking for the right to marry too and not be persecuted for their sexuality. The list goes on and on. What kind of fragility do you have in your life?
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
This book is raw, honest, heart-open writing. A friend had listened to the audiobook and recommended it to me (Thank you!). Glennon describes her pattern of writing books and then realizing afterwards that she no longer has the same reflections about her life. It seems that after this book (and me now following her now on Instagram) things have shifted for the better for her. She was/is? a Christian woman who was committed to her faith and her husband. She then worked through a period of his infidelity and after committing to stay, she met Abby Wombach (famous soccer player) at a Book Event and realized that she was attracted to her. She writes about this experience and ultimately her decision to divorce her husband and marry Abby.
She also talks about the realization that if she listens to herself, she is always guided about what to do that meets both her and society’s higher needs. This is what psychotherapy often does too. Our society has been built on telling people they need to go outside themselves to find the answers to their questions. This starts in parenting and our school systems and culture. What if you really could trust your own instincts? Or as Glennon infers, “What if you are really a wild cheetah but you’ve just been tamed? What if you started the practice of untaming yourself?” The focus of the book is on women, but it could be applied to any gender. She is also ahead of the curve of most white people (including me) in regards to racism and reflects on her own journey.
Find Your Pleasure by Cynthia Loyst
I happened up on this book at my local library and was introduced to Cynthia Loyst, who created a beautiful coffee-table book about simple ways to mindfully choose pleasure in your life. This book isn’t a must read, but a gentle reminder and inspiration to nourish ourselves and experience joy. When we do this we create greater space for growth within ourselves and compassion for others.
Phew! That’s a lot of books. I hope that I offered you a little inspiration as you either start or continue your conversations about racism with friends and family, and to also give yourself permission to have some pleasure & nourishment too along the way and within the greater context of the pandemic and all the extra stresses that it brings too.
A poem for you in the midst of everything happening right now.
O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space beween us: A book of blessings. USA: DoubleDay.
COVID-19 Emergency Emotional Support Kit
Wow, a lot has happened in the span of a few days with the spiralling reactions and realities about COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt a lot of different emotions in a very short time, and I continue to ride those waves. I’ve been watching my own experience and reflecting on what has been helpful for me, and the most helpful thing is to acknowledge what I’m feeling without dismissing it as irrelevant because “other people have it worse”.
You Have The Right To Feel Angry, Sad, And Scared
If I can give you one recommendation, it’s to acknowledge your feelings, disappointments, anger, sadness, rage, fear, terror, numbness or whatever else that you are feeling. As soon as you do this, you give permission for those emotions to unwind from your physical and energetic body and your psyche instead of holding them all in. When you hold emotions in for a long time you can feel like Stephen King’s Carrie, ready to explode at the moment the threshold is broken.
Feel Your Emotions, AND Don’t Take Them Out On Others
The art is to NOT take it out on others, but to express and feel them in your own style. Fearful that if you start to feel these things that you’ll never pull yourself out of it? Then give yourself a time limit. For the next 10 minutes, 2 hours, 1 day etc, I give myself permission to feel _____________. Then I will regroup and do ____________ to shift my mood in a positive way. If you’re worried you won’t follow through on a positive activity, then plan it before you give yourself permission to feel your emotions.
Like waves, your emotions cannot be controlled. If you feel another surge of emotions, repeat the actions of feeling your emotions and then shifting them.
Ideas How To Feel Your Emotions In A Healthy Way
Here are a few ideas to get you started. Feel free to google for more.
- Scared? Go for a run, fast walk, or exercise. Hug a pillow and put a pillow along your back too. Say your fears out loud.
- Disappointed? Maybe hole up in your bed and binge some Netflix.
- Angry? Some people like to journal and others like to yell in their car while driving. I like to yell in the car (because i have family members at home) or dance – whichever feels the most natural and/or practical within my environment.
- Sad? Watch a sad movie to feel your sadness or have a bath.
Then you can ground, regroup, and maybe even brightside things if you’re feeling like that’s right for you.
Want to learn more about how to Ride the Wave of Big Emotions? Then read on.
Riding The Wave Of Big Emotions (repost)
This post was originally posted on August 30, 2018.
Have you ever watched the big wave surfers such as Laird Hamilton ride an 80-foot wave?
Big wave surfers have made it their life mission to find ways to ride the largest waves out there. On the days that the coastguard recommends people to stay out of the water, these surfers go into the water. Here’s a clip to give you a taste of big wave surfing.
When I watch surfing clips on YouTube part of me is pulled to go and become a big wave surfer and part of me wants to sip coffee on the beach while watching big-wave surfers.
Or something stronger than coffee.
When I taught Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to groups of teens, one of the key skills was, Ride the Wave. It is one of the simplest and yet most challenging psychotherapeutic skills.
Notice when you have an uncomfortable emotion rising. Fully feel that emotion and release it. Carry on.
Now here are a few common reactions towards feeling those uncomfortable emotions
or there can be fear that your rage will explode or you’ll fall apart into a million pieces
or we might just show our inner Queen and wave while we say to ourselves, “what uncomfortable emotions?” “Maybe others feel them, but I don’t.” In fact I just feel love and such gratitude.
When we try to push painful emotions away, it typically creates more tension inside us and in our interactions with others.
What Can We Do?
Learn to Surf your Emotions
You can assess what kind of emotional surfer you are and depending on your skill and experience you can often do it on your own.
If you meditate, practice mindfulness, or do relaxation exercises this can be an excellent avenue to practice riding the wave. Part of riding the wave is noticing where you’re holding emotions in your body and giving them attention. It can be noticing the resistance to allowing an emotion. It can be noticing the thoughts or old patterns and beliefs that keep you from expressing your emotions.
One notice might be the common culturally valued pattern of “keeping it all together”. We often want our children to “keep it all together” too. This belief is a barrier to feeling your emotions. Notice the language ‘keep it all together” – the phrase intuits a fear that letting out emotion will result in falling apart.
Learning to Surf With a Guide
I don’t know about you, but i’m easily distracted when i try to emotionally surf on my own. My mind creates things that are much more urgent for me to do instead. Also if you’re a master at holding in emotions, it often takes time and space to allow for things to start moving.
As a psychotherapist, this is often what I help people do. Holding in emotions takes A LOT of power and energy. If we slow down and connect to those buried emotions this can help us shift the tension in our bodies and free us from old patterns. I have had many therapy sessions where it took the full hour to allow myself to feel something deeply, and if I wasn’t paying for the session, I would’ve ended it early and buried the emotions for a little longer (maybe a decade).
Like choosing a wave to surf, riding an emotional wave must be your choice. No one can make you do it. Yet like learning to surf, it can be helpful to have a guide on your journey.
No one becomes a big wave surfer overnight. It’s helpful to start by putting your toe in the water, or notice if you’re drowning in your emotions and need a life preserver or someone to take you back to smaller waves first.
Riding the wave is a skill that has taken me a long-time to learn, but with the help of some fabulous guides I keep going back in the water, even when I’d rather be on dry land.
Who is this skill best suited for?
This is a practical skill for everyone, yet it can be especially helpful if you are feeling:
- Numbness or “feeling nothing” in most or all situations
- Emotional overwhelm in some or many situations
- Burned out
- Or you’re experiencing the ripple of reactions and realities of COVID-19
If you’re you the kind of person who likes to make resolutions for yourself and is determined that 2020 is your year for making those changes, then this post is for you. Today I’m going to share some of my successes and failures in changing habits and give you a few ideas to help make your resolutions a success.
It was very timely for me be the recipient on the local library waitlist for James Clear‘s New York Times Best-Seller Atomic Habits in mid-December. James Clear has made it his life mission to help companies and individuals change their habits. As an avid reader, I look at multiple books and when I find a good one, I like to share it with you. Easy to read, succinct, practical, evidence-based and information that we kind of know already is distilled clearly. Atomic Habits are about making tiny changes over time resulting in new habits.
1. Embody Your Goal
Most of the goals we create for ourselves are outcome-based: I want to lose weight, drink less alcohol, exercise more, change jobs etc. etc. So let’s pick one of those goals and figure out how to embody it. If we reverse-engineer these goals and connect them to the underlying identity we want to have for ourselves, we are much more likely to make a change.
Example Goal: Become More Proficient In French
One of my failed goals is always lurking the background – to become more proficient in French. When I lived in France for a year, I became better at understanding French, but I still struggled to speak it well. Part of me thought it might be nice to continue this learning, but it was never a priority and never happened.
James Clear writes that outcome-based goals are the least successful. We need to find out what it is about our identity that we want to change that is making us choose that goal. This is going to be different for everyone. Why do I want to become a better French speaker?
What I like about this exercise is that it helps me determine if I should even keep this on my resolution list, or just toss it and stop feeling bad about it if I never do it. If you’re struggling with the why in your goal or even choosing which resolution to make a priority, take a look at my earlier blog-post Overwhelmed? 3 Strategies to Filter Out the Noise.
My identity-based goal could be, “I want to be a person who can communicate well in another language, because I love visiting France and would like to be able to converse with ease with my French friends and French people in general”. For someone else, it could be, “I’m a person who likes to challenge myself and keep my mind sharp. I love learning languages so I want to learn French”.
If I want to be a person who wants to communicate well in another language, what choices will I make for myself to get there?
“The biggest barrier to positive change at any level – individual, team, society – is identity conflict. Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity you will fail to put them into action”. James Clear
2. It’s About Clarity, Not Lack of Motivation
I have always struggled with getting regular exercise unless it’s part of my daily routine. I used to have a job where I walked 30 minutes to work. Boom. 60 minutes of exercise a day without even thinking about it. Then I started my private practice and my built-in work-out plan was toast.
So did I stop exercising because I lack motivation? That’s what I’ve often thought, but I made a change last September and booked my exercise into my schedule and success! Apparently it was lack of clarity.
James Clear’s simple hack for creating clarity: “I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]. In retrospect, this is what I had done. If I want to apply this to my goal of learning French I need to do the same.
Example: I will [look up ways to find people to practice French] on [Wednesday January 15 from 1-2pm] [online].
3. Make It Easy – Environment Is Queen
Another factor that made my new work-out regime a success is that I do it in the same building I work. I have my gear in my office, and it’s very easy to go there even on days that I contemplate taking a nap instead. If my exercise class is 30 minutes away during rush hour, even if it’s in my schedule, I’m more likely to self-sabotage on days I feel resistance in going.
Not everyone has a gym or yoga studio in the place they work, but it’s more about connecting exercise to something you’re already doing. What’s on the way to your workplace or close to your home? How can you creatively add it to your life so that’s it’s just part of your schedule?
If I look at my goal for learning French, if the options I find are too expensive or inconvenient, I’m less likely to make it a priority. Maybe I need an online option if I can’t find something close to home or work location.
4. Changing Bad Habits
We all do things that aren’t always the best for our health. We do them because they serve an emotional need. I like sugar and find that a difficult habit to change. Eating a cookie feels like a reward to me and I relax as I eat it. Shaming ourselves or others will often backfire in changing bad habits. A person is smoking a cigarette because it gives them something emotionally – maybe peace, maybe reduction of anxiety, maybe connection to others. James Clear writes about how trying to shame people into eating healthier or stop smoking cigarettes (e.g. cigarette packets with horrible health warnings on them) actually increases our stress and then we’re more likely to continue a bad habit. Human beings are wilely like that.
For bad habits, also follow steps 1-3, but if it’s a habit that you’ve had for a long time, it might take a few extra tricks to help yourself out.
- Reduce your exposure to the bad habit (e.g. don’t have too much sugar in your home, put your cigarettes in a locked box in the freezer, put your phone in a drawer or turn it off)
- Reward yourself (track the money you didn’t spend on alcohol, pot, cigarettes and transfer that money daily or weekly into a separate account for yourself with a specific reward (getting a massage, vacation, an item that you’ve justified not buying because it’s too expensive). What I like about this option is that it doesn’t require you to quit something altogether, but that you can see a real result even reducing your consumption
- (Unabashed Self-promo Alert) See a counsellor/psychotherapist to help you identify what emotional need your bad habit is giving you. Sometimes we have no idea and it’s exhausting to even think about. Sometimes when I try self-reflect on a bad habit, I will find that anything else is more important in that moment. Paying someone else to help you with changing habits can help you get clarity and take action. This also works for hiring coaches and personal trainers too.
- Start with easier goals to reach your hard goal: e.g. if you want to eat less meat, create steps for yourself e.g. A. add 1 more vegetable to every meal B. Find and make 1 new vegetarian-based meal a week C. Increase that to 2 meals a week once I’ve found some recipes that I like etc.
- Use a Habit Tracker App. My husband uses Loop Habit Tracker. Some people like Fit-bits. Both are great at giving you a visual of your progress over the days, months, and year.
“You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it…and that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy…I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment”. James Clear
The book Atomic Habits goes in more depth about habit change, but consider this blog to be congruent with the tip “start with easier goals to reach your hard goal”. Start with these strategies and then get the book if this has whet your appetite for goal change.
- Embody your goal,
- It’s about Clarity, not Motivation,
- Make it easy: Environment is Queen.
What are your goals for 2020?