Loss and love

I recently spent the evening with my sister’s family as they rode the waves of grief. They were reeling from the loss of an entire family of friends, gunned down in an unimaginable act of violent terror. There have been and will be tears of anguish, the constant questioning of why and how this can have happened, and those other questions—How will I go to the park when I’ve always gone there with my best friend? How will I wake up tomorrow and be forced to realize this isn’t a nightmare?

The teenage girl had nicknamed herself “the Moment.” She was unique and happy and comfortable in her own skin. She made people laugh. She loved—she simply loved, because that’s who she was.

In the middle of the night her uncle, fragile before military service and destroyed afterwards, came into her house and gunned down her family, then left to wreak his destruction on others, leaving seven holes in countless hearts.

Some humans are vulnerable to evil.

And yet people are basically, inherently good. The outpouring of concern, of heart-felt compassion and love, has been amazing to witness. When we focus the spotlight of attention on such a tragedy, as happens too often these days, our hearts crack open a little more. We feel each others’ grief.

In the face of heartache and loss, with hearts wide open and in suffocating pain, we have two choices: we can respond by shutting down, by closing off, by building another layer on top of our hearts. Or we can move through the pain, and in the depth of our feeling realize the deep love that binds us all. Our hearts can soften in the crucible of despair and become more pure and beautiful because of it.

The innocents who seem to sacrifice themselves every day in more or less public ways seem to be singing out from the other side: don’t lose faith. We are still here and we still love. Be happy and be kind to one another. And simply love.

photo of hands holding earth

With our thoughts we create the world

With our thoughts we create our world. This ancient piece of wisdom, handed down by the Buddha, is making inroads in our culture. Is there any evidence that this is true? If we accept that this is true, what are the implications? Thoughts must be incredibly powerful if they create our world, but they often seem to have a “mind of their own”. How can we correctly handle them?

One of the best examples of evidence of the power of thoughts to affect matter is the water experiments of Dr. Masaru Emoto, made famous by his book Messages from Water. Water crystals energized with the thought of love are beautiful, bright and clear; those exposed to the thought of hate are misshapen and dark. His mold experiment is another fascinating example of the power of thoughts.

The Global Consciousness Project is investigating the impact of our collective attention on the earth’s magnetic field. The researchers involved with the project have installed random number generators in 70 sites around the world. When big news stories captivate our collective attention and emotional response, the numbers become somewhat synchronized.  The investigators have calculated one in a trillion odds that this effect is due to chance.

And Bruce Lipton, in his book The Biology of Belief, explains how our cells react to our thoughts and emotional climate. The field of epigenetics shows that it’s not genes per se, but the protein covering the genes—the epi-gene, or “above the gene”—that switches genes on or off. The proteins are affected by the environment, including food and water we ingest, the air we breathe, and the emotions we feel. There is a great video about epigenetics produced by Nova here.

So our thoughts are things, and we use them to create our reality. So what now? It becomes increasingly clear that it is our responsibility to monitor our thoughts, to purify our thoughts and emotions, and to be as clear as possible in order to create the life we want—not just for ourselves but for our world. We accomplish this by first becoming aware of the need and dedicating ourselves to the process. Then tools like meditation, hypnotherapy, and energy psychology allow us to clear long-held thoughts and emotions that separate us from the highest good. We open our hearts through gratitude. We learn to trust the process and begin to realize the results of our efforts.

Together, we can be the change that we wish to see in the world, and then see the world we wish to see.


Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net; "Ecology World" by Danilo Rizutti

Beautiful image of a neuron by geralt at Pixaby

Loving Our Cells

I want to share with you something that has been helpful in my work with clients, as well as being profoundly helpful to me. A lot of my clients are trying to lose weight. This isn’t really surprising, as trying to lose weight is so common that it is practically an all-American pastime. A lot of us criticize our bodies and criticize ourselves for not having an “ideal body”. I’d like to turn that around and start loving ourselves—we can start by loving our cells.

It is a struggle to eat the SAD diet—that’s the acronym among “healthies” for the standard American diet—while trying to grow healthy and strong. In our culture, we are fed a constant barrage of media images that idealize an unrealistically super-thin woman (Martha Beck once referred to this as a “stick figure with boobs”) and an unrealistically super-cut man with a six-pack. All this while our population balloons to ever-greater BMIs—one of the areas in which the USA leads the world.  This causes a lot of us to dislike our bodies and feel bad about ourselves as we don’t appear to “measure up.” The negative body image often leads to shame and hopelessness and a host of other negative feelings.

Having a negative body image is destructive. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with our bodies when that relationship is built on criticism and dislike. And it really isn’t fair to dislike our bodies. Here’s a different perspective on why this is so: Our bodies are made up of 50 trillion cells. Each cell lives for about seven years, and each has a certain kind of job to do in our bodies. Moreover, when those cells are taken out of the body and put in a Petri dish, they will move toward a sugar and away from a poison. In other words, our cells are alive, and they have some kind of intelligence, some consciousness. (For more on the consciousness of cells, read Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief).

Now, here’s how this is useful: we can shift the way we think about our bodies. We can learn to honor the cells that make up our bodies, the “50 trillion molecular geniuses” as Jill Bolte Taylor calls them in her most-popular TED talk. We shift from “being” our body to honoring it. This leads to a healthy level of detachment, and it is founded in truth. When we realize that we have a body, rather than mistakenly thinking that we are a body, everything shifts. Those tiny molecular geniuses work hard for us all day, every day. They deserve to have us say good things to say to them. They deserve to be loved an honored.

When we love our cells, we can better love ourselves. Making this shift in how we think of our bodies changes our whole relationship with our bodies. We move out of criticism into love. We love our cells, and begin to love ourselves and to appreciate all our various parts, certainly flawed but special anyway, that make us uniquely us. And that is a profound shift.


The Cinderella of Health

Of all the things we do for our health, one of the most important is probably the least respected. We know about healthy eating. We don’t always do it, but we sure hear a lot about it. We know about the importance of exercise, and there is a whole industry built around our need for it. We don’t always do it, but we all know we should. We hear more and more about the importance of meditation, which may be on its way to being as routine as brushing our teeth—which is another thing we do for our health. We get regular physical exams, have our eyes checked, and go to the dentist.

What we don’t do, as a culture, is get enough sleep. And that is a shame, because sleep is a cornerstone of health and a pillar of good mental health. When we get enough sleep, our brains operate efficiently. This improves both our cognitive skills and our moods. Our reaction time is better, we are easier to get along with, we even eat less.

But as a culture, we adore staying up late, getting up early, and applauding ourselves for being so busy.

When Edison invented the light bulb, he rejoiced that human beings would no longer “waste” so much time sleeping. Before electricity, people slept when the sun was down. In the winter, that could be a very long time. Now we do have electricity and we certainly won’t be in bed for 14 hours on December 21st. But the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. We have plenty of light, and illuminated screens, to guide us through endless and, contrary to Edison’s hopes, often mindless activity. We do this to the detriment of our health and wellbeing.

Even one night of poor sleep causes irritability and moodiness, and decreases our inhibitions. Over time the consequences can be severe. Research shows that chronic sleep deprivation leads to increased mortality risk, weight gain, moodiness, irritability, accidents, heart disease, and decreased immune function. And the consequences for teens are grave: sleepy teens have trouble with weight gain, moodiness, and learning, and sleepy-driving accidents are most prevalent in drivers under age 25.

How much is enough? You probably have heard that adults need seven hours of sleep. In reality, while individual sleep needs vary, we need about eight hours of sleep each night. Teenagers need more, about nine and a quarter hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, 85% of teens report getting less than the recommended amount, and 15% get fewer than 6.5 hours. Adults do a little better, but still 30% of us sleep less than seven hours a night and increasing numbers of us are getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night.

So what can you do to get more sleep?

  1. Make sleep a priority.
  2. Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.
  3. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before bed.
  4. Turn off “blue screens” (TV, iPad, monitors) two hours before bed.
  5. Decrease caffeine consumption and don’t drink caffeine six hours before bedtime.
  6. Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
  7. Restructure your day so that you can get eight solid hours of sleep.

Try it for a week and see how you feel. Try it for three weeks and create a new habit. Model it for your children, and make sleep health a priority in your home. You will find yourself slimmer, more alert, easier to be with, happier, and healthier!

Letting go

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.

Clear the clouds and the cobwebs

Clearing the clouds and the cobwebs

Have you ever known somebody who spends a lot of time thinking about their decisions, yet they seem to be paralyzed when it comes to deciding? Even though they devote a lot of time and energy to thinking about their decisions, it doesn’t seem to help them make a decision, or make a good one. If you could see the energy field of this type of person it would look really cloudy. And that's exactly what is happening.

You may have heard the expression “thoughts are things”. Turns out, it’s true. Thoughts are “things” that exist on the energetic level and they cloud our energy fields, preventing us from seeing clearly. This cloudiness of our energy fields is called “miasma” in the East, and it’s largely composed of thought forms. Clearing up that miasma is an important part of our spiritual growth. It helps us get in touch with our Higher Selves and helps with decision-making.

The work of clearing thought forms is mostly a matter of intention. Becoming aware of the problem—coming to the realization that by over-thinking we are becoming less and less clear in our thinking—is an important first step. Once you decide to tackle the issue, there are some other techniques you can apply to “stop the madness”. Here are some exercises you can try. I learned many of them from my wonderful teacher Josiane D’Hoop.

  1. The “Whirlpool”: Imagine a whirlpool or vortex of energy surrounding you, 20 feet all around. As it swirls (no matter which direction) it is clearing away anything that is not in your highest good. You can deliberately throw specific problems (like “fear of failure” or “the fight with my partner”) into the vortex. You can also just intend that it is clearing negative things and let it do its work. Spending three to five minutes a day doing this exercise a few times a week, and especially after a challenging day, is really helpful.
  2. Chakra by chakra clearing: Imagine each of your chakras, one by one, opening up like a funnel and clearing out any negativity. There are patterns and problems associated with each chakra; you can learn about them here.
  3. Connect to your Higher Self and imagine a laser-like beam of light coming into your energy field to clear a problem. This is particularly effective to clear up a specific thought form or type of thought form (“my anger toward my partner” or “my anger”).
  4. Ask your Higher Self to release and dissolve any thoughts that are not here for your highest good. This only takes a few seconds yet it’s effective.
  5. When complex decisions arise, practice not focusing on them. Do a little brainstorming and then think about something else. While you are busy doing “something else”, in the back of your mind the decision is being made. It will be wiser than the one you over-think.

The more we work to clear our energy fields, the clearer our connection to Guidance becomes, and the better our decision-making will be. A win-win, so have fun with it!

Make room for the good stuff

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!

The signs are there, but are you looking?

I had been thinking of going to graduate school but I was afraid. It would cost money and time that I was not sure I had to invest. It seemed like I already had a lot on my plate as a single mom of three young kids. And it had been a while since I’d done the school thing. I graduated from college thirteen years earlier, and had taken some more undergraduate classes since then, but it had been years since I was in a classroom. Formal graduate education was daunting.

However, I didn’t have another plan. I was teaching yoga and had been studying Reiki. I had considered learning massage and trying to earn a living as a massage therapist/Reiki practitioner/yoga teacher. But I had another thought—that maybe I should get a master’s degree in counseling and become a therapist.

I was on the mailing list of Immaculata University, which is a beautiful school close to where I live. Earlier in the summer I had attended a yoga teacher training, and one afternoon I decided to dedicate my practice to getting clarity on the grad-school issue. At the end of class, I had my answer: go to grad school. I stood in front of dozens of my fellow students and shared what I had received. But then I went home and chickened out. Instead of registering for classes, I continued spinning in fear and doubt.

At the end of the summer I went to the beach for a vacation. Early in the week I headed to the water’s edge to do a surf-side meditation to get clarity on this issue (again!). I sat down, closed my eyes, and asked for a sign. I heard one of those advertising airplanes overhead, and thought “No, I’m not going to look—I’m doing meditation.” But I couldn’t help it. My eyes opened up and I saw the banner: Immaculata University. No kidding, though I did laugh. I packed up my chair, went back to the house, went on line and signed up for a class right away.

My story was legend at school. I heard that they’d only flown the banner once or twice that summer, and we laughed that clearly it was for me and that with my tuition fees, it did indeed pay for itself! One of my teachers wondered how many people in the same situation would have not looked up, or not noticed, or not heeded the “coincidence”.

Ten years later I can say without a doubt: I’m glad I did. And I am certain that, even if they are not always literally signs, we DO receive signs that point us along our way. Once we accept that these signs exist, staying calm and centered to the best of our ability helps us begin to notice them. And they carry the constant reminder: We are never alone.

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!