Grow through hurt: five steps to forgiveness and how to take them

If you are human, you’ve been there – it comes with the territory. We’ve all been hurt. The bad news is that it hurts. But there is good news—the hurt helps us grow. One way to grow from our hurt is to learn to forgive.

Forgiveness does not mean that what happened was OK, that we are condoning the thing that hurt us, or that we are necessarily reconciling with the person who hurt us. Forgiveness is a positive choice. It is a way for us to move out of our past, take back our power, and become happier people.  I have experienced the benefits myself, and seen them in many clients as well. Once the choice to forgive is made, it becomes a process. The following five steps help us with the process:

  1. Recognize that forgiveness is empowering: When we forgive, we take our power back from the person who hurt us. We give away our power when we allow another person’s past hurtful action to continue to hurt us in the present.

How to do it: Take a few moments to center yourself and then imagine and feel what life will be like for you when you are released from this hurt. Imagination is the seed of creation, so just by daydreaming about it you begin to create a new reality.

  1. Invoke your Higher Self: Healing is never possible without involving the Higher Self, which is who we really are. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, right? To reconnect to who you really are, practice invoking your Higher Self and accelerate the process of healing.

How to do it: Invoke your Higher Self by simply asking, “Higher Self, help me to forgive” and believe that the result is guaranteed. Because it is! The more we ask, the more – and more quickly – we receive.

  1. Cut the cords: Anger and hurt create energy cords that drain and cloud our energy fields. When healing occurs, those cords are cut. They can be cut in a “bottom-up” or “top-down” process – either wait for healing and know the cords are dissolved, or actively cut them through intention and accelerate the healing process.

How to do it: Close your eyes, center yourself, and invoke your Higher Self. Feel light and love in your heart center. Then imagine the person who hurt you; surround both of you in a blue light. Then say, “I return your rightful energy to you, and I retrieve my own rightful energy to myself.” Pay attention to any feeling you experience—it can be slightly dizzying, so breathe and trust that your Higher Self is guiding the process.

  1. Practice mindfulness: In those moments when you are upset by the hurtful past, practice being present. In this moment, where are you? In this moment, what is actually happening? Though the emotions certainly are real the pain you feel is an echo of the past, and the hurtful act is not part of your present reality. Reconnect to the present moment to help release the grip of the past and those related emotions.

How to do it: You can connect to the moment by focusing on something tangible – like your breath or the feeling of your feet on the ground or the pen in your hand. You can create a grounding ritual such as touching your forefinger to your thumb to remind you that you are OK in this moment.

  1. Learn from the experience: It is a truism: Every single thing that happens to us happens for a reason. The corollary to this idea is therefore that we are not victims. Our negative experiences are here to teach us and to help us become more fully who we really are.

How to do it: When you are calm and centered, ask yourself “What was my role in this hurtful situation? What is my lesson? What have I gained from this experience?” The answers are there for you, and embracing them is a huge step in taking back your power.

 

Forgiveness is an empowering choice and one worth making. Having done it, you will feel lighter, clearer, and more like yourself.


Summer rhythm

There is a rhythm to the seasons, as there is to everything in nature. This rhythm parallels the breath. Each day has a rise and fall, and each moon phase, too. Human cultures rise and fall. The earth itself goes through long cycles of “inhalation” and “exhalation” as we move from one epoch to another. Scientists and mystics tell us that the universe follows this pattern as well.

The cycle of crops and farming are an apt metaphor for the yearly seasonal cycles. And while most of us in modern times are removed from farming, we understand the basic principles. The spring is a time of growth. We are filled with new ideas and projects; it is a busy and energetic time of preparation, as we are planting seeds. In the summer, these ideas take root and begin to grow and mature. While spring is a heady, airy time filled with aspiration, the energy of summer is – of course! – heat. Hard work and manifestation are the keynotes of summertime as we move our ideas from thought to reality. As summer progresses, work lets up a bit; in late summer, we leave the ideas alone, allowing them to mature in time for autumn’s harvest. In winter, the seeds store their energy so that they can begin anew in the spring.

None of us can achieve our calling without putting in hard work. In this summer season, I have been rededicating myself to growth, and asking some questions to keep myself on track. “What ideas are you allowing to take root? Which of the ideas from the spring are you feeding, watering, and nurturing into maturity? Which ideas need to be weeded out to allow for the healthy growth of the ones you really want?”

I am in the “summer” of my life and am ready to harness the energy of this summer season to bring my goals to fruition. What goals are you nurturing? How have you used the summer energy to keep yourself on track? Please leave comments -- I would love to hear about your journey!


Musings on psychological disorders and the DSM

When I was doing my counseling internship in 2007, a pharmaceutical saleswoman presented at a staff educational luncheon. She told us that teenagers we had been seeing for depression actually had bipolar disorder. She suggested that we should diagnose them with bipolar and send them to our psychiatrist so he could prescribe the right medicine – the one she was selling.

A few years later when I was teaching at the local community college I asked my students to write personal reflections for class. Often, girls wrote about their struggle with bipolar disorder. “I know that there is a chemical imbalance in my brain, and this is something I will always have. I have made peace with it….” I can’t count how many times I read similar sentences. But – is it really true? And more importantly, is it helpful?

The medical model represents (and even creates) our cultural paradigm regarding mental health. The standard is to diagnose disorder based on a series of symptoms. In the psychology “bible”, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual published by the American Psychological Association), there is a detailed description of each disorder and a sort of checklist of symptoms. It pretty much goes like this: If your client has four of the following 7 symptoms, and 3 of the following 5, they have this disorder.

For a lot of people, getting a diagnosis is a relief: “Now I know what it’s called. Now I know that there are other people like me”. And importantly, for parents of school-age kids, “now I can ask for accommodations at school”.

On the other hand, getting a diagnosis can seem like a life sentence. “There is something wrong with me. It has a name and probably a drug to take to keep it under control. I may have this for the rest of my life”.

The DSM and the medical model represent just one way to frame mental health and disorder. Other approaches focus more on wholeness than disorder, and on growth than on static conditions. Other cultures have different ideas about what is healthy and what is disordered.

It is important for us to remember that this time and culture in which we are living is just a snapshot in human history. In Washington’s day, it was standard medical care to put leeches on an ailing person. In the future, today’s standards of care will surely be seen as backward and often barbaric.

To the degree that a diagnosis is helpful – go for it, embrace and believe it!! But if it feels limiting, like a life sentence – remember that you are living at a time when we are led by the medical model and the DSM. It is one way, but not the only way, to frame mental health.


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.

How to face our fears--and find they're not so scary after all

Fear. So chaotic, and so much a part of life--at times. Fear causes a state of inner chaos, part of the lower "ego" self and its wandering, racing, jumpy thoughts. We let those thoughts take us for a wild ride, going down rabbit holes, through wormholes, into black holes. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t helpful.

When we are pushed and pulled by untamed thinking, it’s as if we are letting the car drive the person. But there is hope! We can take the wheel and get back into the driver’s seat by taking hold of our thoughts.

One strategy to do this is to be still with those thoughts. Follow the scary ones down to their logical conclusions, and keep asking “and then what”? The answers are not as horrible as they seem to be when we are running away from them, or letting them run away with us.

We lean into the thoughts, facing them bravely. We shine the light of clear reason on them, and find there is really no monster under the bed after all. We move into those thoughts, and nurture them, and love them, and laugh with them.

And we heal ourselves.


What could be happier than this beautiful azalea?

The physiology of the brain

Meditation has many benefits, and the practice actually changes our physiology. Researchers have conducted studies to find the chemical changes that occur inside our brains when we meditate. Here is what they’ve found:

Meditation reduces cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline is the “fight-or-flight” hormone which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone which increases blood sugar, suppresses immune function and digestion, and acts on brain regions connected with mood, fear, and motivation. Chronic stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease, weight gain, digestive problems, insomnia, and problems with learning, concentration, and memory.

Meditation increases DHEA. This chemical is known as the “anti-aging” hormone; its levels begin to drop at about age 30, and this decline is related to a host of conditions including weight gain, cancer, and heart disease. Because of its link to ageing, people are experimenting with DHEA supplementation. But meditation alone boosts DHEA levels. Feeling younger already?

Meditation releases dopamine: Dopamine is linked to our ability to focus and acts on the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Because of its involvement in pleasure and reward, dopamine is implicated in addiction. ADHD is believed to involve decreased dopamine levels. Healthy dopamine levels seem to help us feel rewarded, experience pleasure, and to focus.

Meditation boosts serotonin: Serotonin helps us feel calm and happy. Serotonin deficits are linked to depression, anxiety and insomnia; in fact, the SSRI antidepressant drugs such as Prozac are designed to boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is such a big part of good moods that it is sometimes called the “happiness hormone”.

Meditation boosts oxytocin: Known as the “love hormone” or the “monogamy hormone”, oxytocin makes us feel calm when we are with loved ones, especially when hugging or cuddling. It is released by mothers during childbirth and causes the production of milk in mammals. It is also released during orgasm and is thought to explain why we tend to feel close to partners after we have had sex. It has an inverse relationship to stress and stress hormones. And the more oxytocin we have, the more we are likely to trust others.

And the good news is that you don’t have to be a Zen master to receive these benefits. If you are interested in beginning a meditation practice, the most important thing to remember is probably that it is a practice. Be patient with yourself as you begin to try a new skill and remember all the benefits your brain will receive!


Goldilocks and the spiritual path

“I see the way which leads between the two great lines of force.” This is the spiritual keynote for the sign of Libra. It serves as a reminder that we are called on to walk the “middle way”: Not too much effort, but not too little. Not too much attachment to the physical plane, but not absorption in the mystical. We find the balance point between happy and unhappy; excited and bored; hard work and inertia.

As I took this up in my meditation this morning I was struck by the idea that this is kind of a “Goldilocks principle”: not too hard, not too soft; not too hot, not too cold. When we apply this sane balance to our lives, we are applying right effort. As our emotional resistance subsides, our path becomes in some ways easier. The pendulum stops swinging and we find the still point of balance where spirit unfolds.

But then because we are human something happens to take us out of our center. We have to keep learning our lessons till they are fully learned. And that’s OK! As Ronny Camareri in Moonstruck said, “We aren’t here to be perfect; the stars are perfect….” When we attain that state of “perfection”, we won’t need to be living in a body, that’s for sure. Until then, the Goldilocks principle applies.

And, hey—if I were going to be eaten by a trio of anthropomorphized bears, I’d rather it be in a comfortable bed after a satisfying meal.


A bad case of the common “Shoulds”

Last week I had a client who had a bad case of “the shoulds.” She was stuck in a counterproductive mindset, feeling like “I should do this” and “I should be that”. There are so many things that she was telling herself she “should” be and do that she couldn't appreciate where she actually was in her life, let alone have clarity about the direction she was going. And she certainly couldn’t have any fun with it.

This is so common. When I look back on my own life I realize that there were many times when I had a bad case of the “shoulds” myself. When we get stuck thinking about what we should be doing and how things should be going and what kind of person we should be, instead of being present with what is, we are disconnected from our authentic self.  We are stuck in our ego-level of consciousness. This drains us, clouds our perceptions, and makes it nearly impossible to build an effective and happy life.

Sometimes I think that if I could share only one thing with my clients, it would be to let go of the “shoulds” and get on with the business of life unfolding. Forget about what others expect. Forget other people’s agendas, and even your own perceived agenda, with all of the tension and disconnect that brings. Get out of your ego and into your heart. When we raise our consciousness up into our heart center, we feel at peace and connected with all; we are able to trust in the order of things and trust ourselves.

If you are suffering from the “shoulds”, stop! Right now, take a few deep breaths and soften into your heart center. As you begin to connect to your heart, ask your Higher Self to release you from the expectations you place on yourself and the expectations others place on you. With intention, with practice, you will be able to start living an authentic and joy-filled life of purpose—present, confident, and graceful with what IS. Such a better place to be from which to weave a life.


The power of the face

Your face reflects the emotions you feel. This is obvious: When we are sad we frown. When we are angry our eyes get smaller and everything on our faces becomes more horizontal and set. When we are happy our eyes light up and we smile. And we can instantly tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one. Did you ever wonder, or notice, what the difference actually is? In a real smile, the tiny muscles of the bottom eyelid move upward in a crescent. Before I learned this a few years ago, I couldn’t have told you what the difference was—I just knew it when I saw it. Our intuitive understanding of facial expressions is part of our empathy and ability to connect to others. Facial expression is a huge part of nonverbal communication.

So we know that our faces convey how we feel. But did you know that faces can determine how we feel? Or to be more precise, changing the expression on our faces can change the emotions we experience. Since the 1980’s, researchers have found the putting a smile on makes us happier. Sales trainers have been recommending for decades that we put a smile on our faces before picking up the phone, because it will make us sound happier and more likeable.

More recently, researchers have found that the smile doesn’t even have to be genuine. We can “fake it till we make it”. Mori and Mori of the University of Tokyo conducted a study, published in 2009, using rubber bands and latex bandages to force participants’ cheeks upward in a smile position, or downward in a frown. In the smile position the participants felt happier, and in the frown position they felt sad. A follow up study published in 2013 found that the smilers had a better opinion of others when they were smiling. Wow. We can plaster on a fake smile and not only feel happier, we’ll like people more.

And then there is the work of Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and researcher who investigates body language and facial expression. She presented one of the most popular TED talks ever; you can see it here. In her talk, Cuddy explains how our posture and facial expression affect our mood. She shares lots of tips on how we can use our bodies to feel more powerful and happy. One of her suggestions is to put a pencil in our mouth to force our cheeks back into a smile position in order to feel happier.

I used to love sharing this with my students when I taught at the local community college. I would sometimes ask them to put their pencils or pens between their teeth to see if they started feeling happier. Usually they wound up laughing, probably because we all looked a little ridiculous. I have also used this knowledge to my own advantage many times. When I start to feel unhappy, I try to remember to plaster a smile on my face. Soon enough, I’m back to feeling peaceful and happy.

If you decide to test this out for yourself, I’d love to hear how it goes—leave a comment below!


Top five go-to ways to stay peaceful and happy

“Be happy. It feels better!”

This has to be my absolute favorite quote from the Dalai Lama. It certainly is so true—of course it feels better to be happy! But is it really that simple? If we are not committed to happiness, it can be fleeting and difficult to find. And even when we are making happiness a priority (which it really ought to be for a number of reasons), sometimes things go wrong and we get derailed. What’s a happiness-seeker to do?

  1. Detach, detach, detach. It can be so much easier said than done, right? But we know that taking the long view is a key to maintaining inner peace. Our pain comes not from the event but our resistance to it. As my dad said to me a few years ago when I was upset, “these things have a way of working themselves out.” How often do we look back and, as the Garth Brooks song goes, “thank God for unanswered prayers?” We have all let go of important—really, really important—things. And as time goes by, we realize life moves on and we can indeed still be happy. When life gets you down, remember this.
  2. Put a smile on. Even a fake one. Seriously. A researcher in Japan did a study in which he put people’s faces into a smile or a frown using rubber bands and plastic bandages. Sure enough, the “smilers” became happier and the frowners got unhappier. Smile on!
  3. Regular exercise has been shown to boost not just our metabolism and strength, but our moods as well. Find a type of exercise you like and commit to it. Find a buddy to work out with, sign up for an exercise or yoga class, or set yourself an alarm to hit the pavement or the clothes rack –umm, treadmill. Just do it!
  4. Be friendly. Social engagement boosts happiness and is a great anti-depressant. We humans are communal creatures and do better in society yet modern culture often separates us from our pack. Get out there and mingle.
  5. You’ve heard it here before. Meditation boosts happiness and a whole host of physiological markers of happiness. Disconnecting from our busy thoughts and emotions and returning to our center, which is a wellspring of peace and happiness, takes practice. In fact, it is a practice. We need to be patient with ourselves and get to work with that practice.

These are my top five go-to ways to stay more peaceful and happy. I should point out, of course, that happiness doesn’t come from pleasure-seeking; it comes from things like authenticity, productivity, and service. When our work and relationships are satisfying and affirming, and our spiritual life is rich, happiness unfolds in wonderful ways.

What are your favorite ways to stay happy? I’d love to hear from you!