Category Archives: Happiness

happiness

The role of emotions in cancer

Susie (name changed for privacy) came in to my office reeling. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treatment was underway. But she wasn’t sleeping. She was trying to keep it all together, and ended up alternating between tears and anger. She was certainly having trouble engaging in life. And she knew that none of that was helping her condition.

The mind-body connection has major implications for our health and well-being. People all across the Western world are taking up practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and they are doing it with good reason. They feel better, and there is a deep and growing body of empirical evidence showing that emotions play an important role in health. Resources as mainstream as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic address the role of stress in health. We know that stress and traumatic events impact the hormonal stress response system in ways that impair immune function and can lead to disease―even cancer. And we know that there are ways to combat that impact and improve overall health and wellbeing.

In one study of 94 women with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, stress was correlated to disease: women who had not experienced significant stressors remained disease-free for longer periods of time than those who did experience significant stress. But there is good news even for people experiencing tough times. According to David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please, don’t suppress your emotions. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer experienced a significant loss in the two years before diagnosis. I can’t tell you how many times when I’m doing energy healing on a person with cancer I hear the phrase “un-cried tears “. Tears are not shameful, and we should throw away the silly lyric “big girls don’t cry” and its implication that even little boys shouldn’t. Tears are cleansing and we do ourselves a great service when we cry them.

Not shedding those tears is an aspect of the “type C personality”, a term dubbed for the traits commonly seen among people who have been diagnosed with cancer. In the Cancer Report, Susan Silberstein, Ph.D., of the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, outlines the traits. They are:

  • Repression of negative emotions (as mentioned above)
  • Feeling hopeless, that there are no options, or a lack of control
  • Not having deep emotional ties or being in toxic relationships
  • A tendency to keep the peace at any cost, to put others’ needs first, or even to be unaware of their own needs
  • A feeling (often unconscious) that they do not deserve happiness, success, or even life
  • A need to gain attention through the disease which they could not, or did not, receive otherwise

Now, this does not imply that getting cancer is anyone’s fault. None of us has everything all figured out. We all need to learn and grow, and some of us need to learn through the experience of disease. That’s just how it works, at least in my worldview. Thankfully, when we know what we are meant to be learning, it is a little easier to set ourselves to the task at hand, and that’s why this information about the mind-body connection and the “Type C personality” can be so empowering.

When I work with clients who have cancer, we spend a lot of time re-working their emotional patterns. We create a safe space to cry. We reframe the work ethic to create less stress and a more balanced life. We practice shifting emotional boundaries to create healthier relationships. We shine the light on those tendencies to “stuff it” and practice speaking up. All of these are skills that can be learned, and learning them leads to a happier, and healthier, life.

Susie and I worked together for several weeks. During that time she had a few “aha” moments. On her first visit, she cried. But after the tears were released, she started to feel lighter and clearer, and certainly more optimistic. We used some hypnotherapy and guided meditation techniques to help her find her voice. When she used it, she found that, far from driving people away, her relationships actually improved.  She evaluated her work schedule and found ways to be more efficient and less stressed. And she became confident that her treatments were working. Susie managed to learn some of the lessons her cancer had to teach and was able to get back to the joy of living.

And that, it seems to me, is pretty much the point. 🙂

My life is giving birth to me

It is not a comfortable process. There are moments of comfort, certainly. But there are unavoidable moments of painful growth, when I am squeezed and pushed and molded into something new. Painful experience seems to be part of the human condition. We are told that humanity as a whole is progressing under the 4th Ray of Divinity, the Ray of harmony through conflict. That theory is hard to argue with.

Our painful experiences, though, are turning us into something more useful and pure. Pain is the heat applied in the crucible of our existence. When we hold this in our minds, it makes the pain a little easier to bear. When we are able to detach a little from the pain, we can navigate it a little better. One way I’ve found to be a little more detached is to remember that each of us is made up of many parts, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Our bodies are made up of 50 trillion cells, and each of those cells is a little unit of consciousness. Bruce Lipton, in the fabulous Biology of Belief, describes the movement of cells in a lab setting: In a Petri dish, human cells will move toward a sugar source and away from a poison. They have consciousness, of course on a different scale than ours, but consciousness nonetheless. Imagine how they respond to the thoughts we send to them…imagine how they will respond to kinder thoughts.

Our emotions exist on a different level of consciousness than our bodies or our minds. Emotions use different brain structure than thoughts. The limbic system is the emotional brain and the cortex is the “thinking” brain. The limbic system sends more signals up to the cortex than the other way around, which helps explain why emotions can sometimes overwhelm reason. Luckily we can learn to take a more detached position, and when we do, we begin to notice the flow of emotions. We still experience them, but without drowning in them.

Our thoughts are different from our feelings. Our thoughts sometimes run away with us, but with practice we learn to control them. The first step to this control is to witness them. We notice them arise and float away, and begin to realize that we have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. We have been told that with our thoughts we create the world. As I look back on my own life experiences, it seems that there is some truth to this. But often we create by accident or default because we create the things we are afraid of. With practice we can learn to use our thoughts to create the things that are for our higher good.

The highest level of being that most of us are able to access at times is the level of our Soul, which is who we really are. Instead of identifying with the passing pleasure and pain of our 3-D physical world, we are learning to identify with a higher purpose, a higher level of consciousness. When we contact our soul, we experience pure joy, gratitude, and peace. We become more intuitive and less critical, and realize that when one member of our human family is suffering, we all suffer. We come to understand that we are more than what meets the eye.

I think that is the purpose of our suffering: To teach us to shift our focus upward. Painful experience shows us that we are placing our attention on the temporary and transient rather than the real and transcendent. Holding on to this idea has helped me to witness my suffering on one level, even as I participate in it on another. This eases the pain and opens me up to pure joy. And that is pretty fantastic!

Happy in the New Year!

As you are thinking about your goals for the new Year, have you considered adding “be happy!” to the top of your list?  Perhaps you should. There has been a lot of talk about happiness recently, and researchers are finding out about the many benefits to happiness-besides just feeling, well, happy. Happy people are also healthier, more successful, and have better relationships and greater job satisfaction. The pursuit of empty pleasure does not make for a happy life. Happiness comes from a blend of a positive outlook with meaning in life. Here are some mindset changes that can help increase your happiness:

  1. Adopt a “glass-is-half-full” attitude. There is plenty wrong in the world, for sure, and nobody’s life is easy. But focusing on the negatives breeds discontent. Instead, focus on what is right–and see it grow.
  2. Don’t compare. No matter how tempting it is when you pass a Ferrari, a mac-fabulous house, or a person with a rockin’ bod, don’t compare your life to anyone else’s. You are on your own journey, learning the things you need to become the person you are becoming. You can’t really know what anyone else is going through but you can be sure of one thing: We all have pain. It’s part of the human experience.
  3. Be mindful of your words. Words have power and we should use them wisely. Make it a practice to avoid hurtful words. One all-too-popular form of hurtful speech is gossip, which is like a boomerang: you won’t avoid being hurt by it if you engage in it. We can also fall into the trap of hurtful speech during conflict. Instead, use your words carefully and thoughtfully to convey your point of view, but never to hurt another.
  4. Let others in. Allowing yourself to trust is one of the bravest things you can do, and one of the most rewarding. If it seems scary, consider this: people are basically good. We don’t always behave that way, but most of the time, most of us do pretty well. Besides, as they say, no man is an island. To think that we can do it all on our own is illusion; humans thrive in groups. So get socially engaged, spend time with friends, and allow yourself to love and be loved.
  5. Give back. There is probably nothing that increases happiness—real happiness, not the “I just got a lollipop” kind of transient happiness—more than giving back. So give back—to the people in your life or to strangers; to animals, to plants, to the earth. Find a cause you enjoy and get involved. Make someone’s day. Make a contribution to the welfare of something beyond yourself. There is absolutely nothing can make you happier.

Shifting out of criticism

I’m starting off with a bold statement, and it’s one I stand by: Nobody is going out into the world every day determined to screw up. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “Today I am determined to make people mad and make as many mistakes as I can.” People make all kinds of mistakes, for sure. In fact, none of us is immune. One of our biggest mistakes, I believe, is to criticize others for making mistakes!

When we fall into the trap of criticism we are taken away from our inherent oneness. The heart center is taking a backseat to the little ego and we make the mistake of reinforcing our separateness from others rather than focusing on our interdependence.

We all have our own back-stories. We all have wounds to heal and lessons to learn, as well as a contribution to make. So, just as you wouldn’t get angry with a toddler for not understanding a philosophical debate, or a person who speaks another language for not understanding yours, isn’t it inappropriate to get angry with others for simply being where they are on their path?

Here’s the real kicker. The things that make us really upset at someone else are always a projection of something we are not comfortable with in ourselves. Do “stupid people” really push your buttons? Check your internal dialogue for self-criticism about being stupid. Enraged when someone is being selfish? Ask yourself how often you criticize yourself for being selfish, or see if you have a martyr complex.

And so it goes. What we criticize in others, we criticize in ourselves. The more we criticize others, the more we are criticizing ourselves. Once we realize this, and start to work on ourselves, we come to a place of acceptance. We find ourselves engaged in criticism and judgments less and less. When we do the hard work of healing our own wounds, it is easier to accept the mistakes of others.  We’re in this together, doing the best we can with the personalities we have.

Letting go of that which does not serve, making room for the good

Are there things that fill your day but don’t add to the purpose of your life? If you are like most of the people I know, the answer is probably yes. And it may be time to think about what you can let go.

Our modern lifestyle provides us with many opportunities to overcrowd our lives and keep us from functioning well. We over-schedule ourselves and leave very little time to do what is really important, or to do anything really well. In order to live more effective lives, we need to cut out the extraneous stuff. We need to let go of the things that do not serve us so that we can be of better service.

Over the past year I have let go of so many things that were not serving me anymore—things that I had held on to out of commitment, or because I had intended to gain something that I came to realize I wasn’t actually gaining. For example, I had participated in a business leads group in my area in order to build my practice. Initially, the group was a wonderful source of support and leads, and helped me a lot. But over time, I became tired of the morning meetings, found myself often running late and usually looking unhappy. And people shouldn’t recommend an unhappy-looking therapist to their friends and colleagues! I finally realized that I wasn’t doing myself or my business any good by sticking with the group. I let it go, and my practice grew.

By letting go of the group that didn’t serve me, I was able to serve my clients better and be more fulfilled. I love those mornings now! What can you let go of? I’d love to hear from you—post comments below!

On being happy at work

Are you happy in your job? If you are, you are one of the lucky ones: according to a Gallup poll published in Forbes, unhappy workers outnumber happy ones by two-to-one. Sadly, 24% of workers worldwide are “actively disengaged”—they hate their jobs. And only 13% are engaged by their work, feeling fulfilled and making a contribution. If you are looking for a better job, or are seeking your calling, a heart-centered shift can help.

When you are stuck in a job that you really don’t enjoy, you have basically three choices:

  1. Suck it up, hate it, and wait for retirement. Which is what a lot of people clearly do in our society, but it seems to me to be a waste of some of our best years. Really when you consider the amount of time we spend at work versus doing other things while awake, work takes the lion’s share of our lives. So spending all that time hating what we’re doing is probably not a good ingredient for creating a meaningful, joy-filled life of purpose.
  2. Re-frame how you view your work. You can focus on the irritating things at work (obnoxious boss, weird colleagues, not enough pay for the time you put in). But you can turn all that around and look at the—I hate to say it, but really, look at the bright side. When I had my first job (which I hated with all my might) my supervisor had a sign in her cubicle that stated “attitude is everything.” I found it irritating. But she had a point. When I stop to consider the many blessings I had back then I’d like to reach back through time and shake that unhappy young me. My job gave me a chance to learn so many things: to type really fast, use computers really well, and how the stock market works (OK, I still don’t really get it); to work in downtown Baltimore, the world’s best city, and walk around the harbor during lunch breaks; friendship and mentorship with great colleagues; meaningful memories and life lessons that I still cherish; the opportunity to see Bill Gates up close and in person (even if he didn’t make eye contact). If I had focused on what I liked and what I wanted more of, instead of focusing on what I hated and what I wanted to get away from, I could have leveraged that first job into a satisfying career, and not have gone home every day and cried. But I did what I did. And I’m sharing this in the hope that you’ll do better.
  3. Find a new job. It can sound like mission impossible if you spend a lot of time focusing on the negative statistics of current employment trends. But there’s always a better way of looking at statistics, and it’s important to remember that you aren’t a statistic. You have some unique gift to bestow on the world. There is something that you are uniquely in a position to contribute, because of the talents you came with and the experiences you have had. Find it. The way to find it is through your heart. What are the things you do that make your heart sing? What kinds of things do you do that have you lost in time—you may not notice hours ticking by; you may even forget to eat. If you’ve had that kind of experience, take it as a hint: this is your calling. Find a way to do more of that. Consider how you might be able to make a living doing that thing that you love to do. The Universe has your back. Once you realize that, all you have to do is show up.

There is a quote circulating around on Facebook, attributed to the Dalai Lama. It says “Be happy. It feels better.” That sounds like great advice to me! A shift in attitude, or a shift in job—both can be the path to happiness when you are unhappy at work. Which shift will you choose?

Reflections on parenting

In my practice, I often work with parents who have some issues with their kids. These parents are loving, engaged, and dedicated, but sometimes the work of parenting gets in the way of the pleasure of having kids. As the summer winds down and my oldest starts his senior year of high school, I have been wanting to savor my time with my kids. Here are four reminders that I hope can help us stay grounded in the miracle and blessing of being parents.

  1. Detach: Our kids are a reflection of us… but then again, they are individuals. When our kids misbehave, parents so often get upset because we understand on some level that their behavior is a reflection of our parenting—so their misbehavior must be a reflection of our mis-parenting. Right? Umm, not so fast. Our kids are their own unique selves, coming into this lifetime with their own set of assets and liabilities, their own karmic path to overcome, benefit from, and work out. A parent’s empathy and understanding will go a long way toward mitigating the occasional blow-up or tantrum; our over-identification with our children breeds tension, anxiety, and even undermines the child’s autonomy. Remember you are separate beings, and you are the mentor. Breathe.
  2. Boundaries, part 1: We need to set good boundaries and uphold them. It’s important to know what our limits are. When we don’t know how we feel about something our kids are presenting to us (such is life!) and we’re not sure what to do, it helps to take some time to reflect: What is the source of our hesitation? How does this fit into our overall belief system? Often we must make a quick decision, and at those times it’s best to stay confident that whatever we decide will ultimately be OK. “Right” or “wrong”, we and our kids will learn from everything that happens. Some of the best lessons are those that provide the chance to reflect on what we could have done better.
  3. Boundaries, part 2: Boundaries are not just about what we allow and don’t allow our kids to do. Boundaries also go back to the first point, which is that our kids are their own unique selves. They will have struggles and failures in their lives, just like we did, and just like everyone does. If we did not have struggles and failures, we would not be here, because we’d have already learned all those lessons! Part of effective parenting comes from allowing our kids to fall, and pick themselves back up. We can’t, and should not even try, to protect them from those lessons. That is not only futile; it denies our kids their humanity. But when we are strong, loving parents, we can help them to pick themselves up, reflect on what went wrong, and set a course correction.
  4. Open your heart: Being heart-centered gives us a greater sense empathy, compassion, and unconditional positive regard. In order to open our hearts, we need to know what it feels like to be heart-centered, and honor that feeling; look for it, seek it out, and cultivate it. Right now you can connect to your heart-centeredness by deliberately relaxing, taking a few deep breaths and feeling gratitude for all that you have, all that you are, and all that you are becoming; by flowing gratitude to your children, family, and community. To enhance your ability to be heart-centered, try cultivating a practice of mindfulness. Or meditation. Or yoga asana. Or prayer. Or all of the above. But make it a practice, a habit.

In our day—in this amazing time of transformation—we are called to do our spiritual practice right alongside of our work and family life. In this light, everything we do is a spiritual practice.  Parenting is a spiritual practice. Appreciating the time we spend with our kids, sharing our love, teaching them through (intended) right action, are part of this practice. And practice does not mean perfect. Yet as we practice, as we dedicate ourselves to this path, imagine how work and family life will flourish!

Brainwaves and consciousness: more reason to meditate!

Your brain is composed of about 100 billion neurons. These cells communicate with each other by sending electro-chemical signals: Energy travels down the cell’s long axon into the synapse or gap between neurons; there is takes a chemical ferry-ride on a neurotransmitter, crossing the gap to the next neuron’s dendrite, where it resumes its travel as an electrical charge. The whole process, dendrite to cell body to axon to synapse, takes less than five-hundredths of a second. Imagine the activity of 100 billion neurons sending electrical pulses flowing through your brain! These synchronized pulses are measured by EEGs; they range from less than one pulse per second, or Hz, to more than 32 Hz. Brainwaves correspond to states of consciousness, moving from the slowest delta waves during deep sleep to fastest-paced gamma waves during peak spiritual experiences. Here’s a breakdown:

Delta waves, 0.3-4 Hz (or pulses per second), are the brainwaves of deep sleep. When we are running delta waves, we have lost conscious contact with the “real” world. Delta sleep is associated with hormonal activity that promotes growth and relaxation, and deep delta-wave sleep is essential for healing. Infants have a lot of delta wave activity, even when they are awake. In fact children up to age five still sometimes experience delta wave activity when they are awake. Delta wave sleep decreases as we age. Adolescents experience a decrease in delta sleep; another decline happens in the 40s and the tapering off continues after that.

Theta waves, at 5-8 Hz, are the brainwaves adults experience during deep meditation, hypnosis, and sleep (but not deep sleep). Young children up to age seven typically cannot access brainwaves faster than theta, even while they are fully awake. The magical thinking of young children is aligned with this brainwave pattern; even as adults, when we use theta wave frequencies we are not using critical thinking or deductive reasoning. This partly explains how post-hypnotic suggestions work. It also explains how negative messages we received as children continue to haunt us during our adult lives—they were accepted uncritically and became our reality. Fortunately, it is possible to use theta waves (via hypnosis or meditation) to reprogram those harmful messages!

Alpha waves, at 8-15 Hz, are the brainwaves of “chill”. Calm and relaxed, these brainwaves represent our brain at rest. They are associated with being “in the now” and are good for harnessing the mind-body connection. Alpha waves are used with memory recall; this is why people sometimes use hypnosis to find lost items. Accessing calm alpha waves during learning actually increases our ability to concentrate and learn.

Beta waves, at 16-31 Hz, represent the bulk of our waking consciousness. These are the frequencies associated with normal wakefulness, work, and conversation. Beta waves are subdivided into low-beta, beta, and high-beta. High-beta waves are associated with highly complex thought and also with anxiety. Beta waves generally are inefficient as they burn more energy than the lower-frequency waves. They are also less associated with creativity and creative problem solving.

Gamma waves are the highest-frequency brainwaves are, at 32-42 Hz. Researchers originally thought these fast-paced waves were anomalies. Analog EEG machines couldn’t even measure these fast-paced waves. Now we have come to understand that gamma waves are associated with peak spiritual experiences like universal love and altruism. While everyone experiences gamma waves, some do so more often than others. People who experience a high rate of gamma activity are found to be more intelligent, compassionate, and happy, with better memory recall and greater self control.

It is possible to train your brain to run healthier brainwave patterns. We can learn to get out of the taxing, normal, and stress-related beta wave patterns and into healthier alpha, theta, and even gamma frequencies through regular practice. The internet is full of great music that is designed to elicit specific brainwaves; binaural beats or isochronic tones use specific frequencies to help you access these beneficial brainwave patterns. I like the ones here for sleep and here for meditation.

Meditation is a technique that can help you train your brain to relax. When we meditate we use alpha and theta waves; experience may lead to increasing gamma wave activity. Meditation can be thought of as simply a way to deliberately harness slower brainwaves. The idea that meditation must be an arduous task of not-thinking is misleading and may keep beginners from giving it a try. If you are thinking of embarking on a meditation practice you may want to consider this: No rules, just RELAX and enjoy.

Five ways to keep calm in any situation

Most of us feel stressed from time to time, but for some of us, stress has become a part of life. I work with women who have breast cancer, and I when I share with them that researchers estimate up to 90% of disease is caused by stress, they all nod knowingly, and tell me about their jobs and other stressors.

Not only does stress take a heavy toll on our health, it doesn’t make us happy or let us feel good. If you agree that happiness and health are your birthright, learn to step back from stress and take control of your health and happiness by practicing these simple tricks.

  1. Practice being present. Unless you are literally under attack, the causes of stress are about the future, not the present. Even if you have a horrible boss, chances are that you are not under attack all the time. After a stressful situation, step back and take a breath. Remind yourself that your feet are on the floor, your seat is in the chair, the keyboard is under your fingers, and breathe.
  2. Exercise. Seriously, it gets rid of lots of those stress hormones that are circulating in your bloodstream because of your horrible bosses (or dramatic coworkers, or endless traffic, or noisy neighbors…). It gives those hormones something to work for, and then lets your adrenal glands (the stress glands) get to rest. There’s nothing like a good workout to relieve stress and get the body back to a healthy state.
  3. Tap. The body is filled with acupressure meridians and each of them has a treatment point. The treatment point for stress is at your kidney meridian (your adrenals live on top of your kidneys), just under the collarbones. The treatment point for anger is at the liver meridian, on the middle of your bottom rib (straight down from the nipple). And you can open your heart by tapping the middle of your chest. A great stress-busting tapping sequence is the collar bones, heart, and bottoms of your ribs. Tap each point about seven times and breathe while you think about your stress and feel it melt away.
  4. Be careful who you talk to. There are those friends who can talk us off the ledge, and then there are those who make us want to jump. I remember calling a friend when I was upset and, God love her, she loved me and felt just as angry as I did. We just got more and more upset and angry and indignant and …things did not end well that day. Better to call the one who stays calm and helps you get calm, too.
  5. Make a change. How long are you willing to let your work (or family) stress take a toll on you? There is wisdom in the serenity prayer: Get the patience to accept the things you can’t change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. You can change yourself and the way you react. You can project heart-centered kindness into a chaotic situation and help others become more heart-centered. But some situations are just toxic. If you have learned all you can from the situation, it might be time to learn how to leave it.

With patience, resolve, and practice, you can beat stress –instead of letting it beat you.

Five affirmations to help get you through difficult times

All of us have to go through tough times at some point in our lives–it’s part of being human. When the going gets tough, it’s helpful and even important to remember that this too shall pass. Until that happens, here are some affirmations to help you keep the faith:

  1. I will fully accept that which is for the highest good of all. And then trust that what is happening is really for the highest good. In every situation, there really exists that which is for the highest good of all. The universe has the ability to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as the old saying goes. In time, just about every experience we meet has an upside. When we can transcend the limits of this lifetime, that silver lining exists in every single Bar none. Find it.
  2. I trust that everything is in divine order. This bears repeating and so makes a good affirmation! Everything is in divine order. Sometimes we can’t see that from our limited perspective and because of our desires and attachments to particular outcomes. But our personalities aren’t in control. Surrendering to the divine order of things helps ease the pain when our desires don’t align with what is happening.
  3. I vow to learn my lessons well. Every difficult situation comes to us in order to teach us something important. And as we have heard and even experienced, when we don’t learn the lesson, the lesson gets harder. With this in mind, consider your role in the difficulty and try to find out what your lesson is. Once you’ve learned it, the lesson will be over.
  4. I strive for detachment in all things. Attachment leads to suffering, as the Buddha taught us well. When we are able to detach, suffering ends. It is a practice, which means it won’t be perfect. But practice now.
  5. I surrender to the guidance of my Higher Self. Your Higher Self is that part of you that connects you to the divine. When you are centered in your heart, peaceful and loving, you are connected to your Higher Self and you radiate that peace and love to everyone and everything around you. It is possible to remain heart-centered even when going through challenging times. Doing so makes those times much easier to bear.