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Someone pushing your buttons?

Have you ever wondered what to do when someone is pushing your buttons? Consider thanking them. This is because when someone is pushing our buttons, we are learning where those buttons are. Now we can begin to uninstall them. And in our romantic relationships, this can be a step toward repairing attachment wounds, which I wrote about last week.

Often my clients come into the office very upset because their significant other has said or done something that really angers them. I usually respond with a bright smile saying “wonderful news!” Of course they usually look a little puzzled by my enthusiasm. If it seems surprising to you as well, hear me out. I’ve been exploring this position for many years and find it a key to empowerment, healing, and peaceful relationships.

This is because we learn to shift our perspective to “if somebody’s pushing my buttons, it’s only because I have buttons to push.” The buttons belong to us, not them; they show us where we are vulnerable and need some TLC. When we take responsibility for doing our own work, instead of putting the responsibility on our partners, we ave something we can actually work with.

The crux of this perspective is that we are only reactive when we are triggered in areas of our own vulnerability. For example, when I was younger, I was vulnerable about my ability as a writer. I had often been told that I was a good writer, and so I had some ego and self-esteem issues that were tied up with my identity as a writer. If I ever got negative feedback on an article that I wrote, it was very threatening to my sense of self. It would upset me, and I sometimes got mad at the messenger. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less threatened about those abilities, so I’m less vulnerable. When I get negative feedback on an article, I’m interested in understanding and learning from the perspective of the person who is giving their feedback, and it doesn’t upset me. That’s progress!

The pattern evolves

A client of mine recently spoke about how he was upset because his wife was frustrated with him for double booking himself. This was, in fact, a pretty regular occurrence. With his ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) tendencies, he really needed to rely on a calendar system but had not developed the habit of doing it. This left him at risk for missing appointments, double booking himself, and running late. He felt really vulnerable about this. Over the years, he had internalized and honed a lot of negative self talk about the pattern. And so when his wife rolled her eyes and got frustrated because of the inconvenience that his lack of organization caused her, he was particularly offended.

The pattern evolved: She would comment or criticize. He would become extremely defensive. This left him feeling exceptionally criticized. He could not hear her, or have empathy with her position.  As he became involved in his own story of negative self talk, low self-esteem in this area, and generally feeling bad about his organizational skills. Their conflict escalated, leaving them both feeling hurt, angry, and distant.

Shift happens

When he explained the situation to me, he was more focused on his wife’s affect, how critical she was, how short tempered she was, and how mean she was. And I asked him to take a step back and look beneath the surface anger. The old saying goes, when one finger is pointing out three more pointing back; I ask him to reflect on how her criticism met his own internal dialogue to create his vulnerability.

He thought about it for a moment. Then he began to reflect on how he felt about running late, missing things, and double booking himself. It turns out that his wife was not the first person to criticize him for that pattern. He didn’t like that quality in himself.

I worked with this client on shifting his own self concept around double booking and other time-management problems. We did some energy psychology practices to shift him out of a state of self-criticism into one of self-acceptance. Interestingly, from that place he was able to implement some changes that work to correct the behavior.

Of course, once he had lightened up on his self-criticism, he had more empathy for his wife. He was less hurt and angered by her criticism, and had more understanding and compassion for her frustration. This helped the couple to de-escalate their tension, and allowed them to interact with each other in a more compassionate, present, and a loving way.

What to do when someone is pushing your buttons

It is, in fact, the same in almost any situation. If someone is “making you mad“, it is only because you are vulnerable about the thing that they are pointing out to you. In this way, they are acting as your mirror. Your self-criticism is like fog on the mirror. It distorts the image that is being reflected back to you.

By the same token, when somebody is “pushing your buttons“, they are providing you with excellent information about yourself. You can shift your focus from the other person and what you perceive as their wrongdoing, and turn instead toward yourself. When you find yourself feeling upset, you can ask yourself “What is my vulnerability here? Why does this upset me? What pattern, set up in my past, is being activated now? What’s going on beneath the surface?”

So the next time that somebody is pushing our buttons, let’s try to remember to turn our attention within. Let’s remember to ask ourselves, “What is my vulnerability here?” And then from that place provide ourselves with self-love and self compassion, and thus create the ground for harmonious relationships.

Until that time, we can thank our partners for pushing our buttons. Because after all, they are simply letting us know that we have buttons to uninstall.

The role of attachment in marriage

I am noticing a trend: more people seem to be reading and commenting on my articles about healing from a breakup than the ones on improving our relationships. In many ways this makes sense; crisis brings us to search for help and for answers. After all, this is how we grow. But it is also a concern. Our divorce rates continue to hover around the 50% mark, and the rates are even higher for second marriages. Clearly, many couples are in pre-divorce crisis. Unfortunately, they are not taking proactive steps to get out of the crisis, at least not before it is too late. Many probably don’t recognize how bad things are. Like frogs in a pot of hot water, they are getting cooked without realizing it. Understanding attachment in marriage and romantic relationships may help us to reverse this trend.

My great wish is that people will learn to recognize the signs of distress and take active, collaborative action to heal their relationships. I understand that breakups can provide tremendous opportunities for growth and expansion, and I personally do not regret the breakups I have had, because I can see how much I gained from them. But I also know that relationships can be healed, and we actually know how to do it. So with that in mind, I share some advice for couples whose relationships are in distress, in order to help you understand what went wrong, and then how to get back on track.

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Attachment in marriage and romantic relationships: Where did the love go?

Last week I wrote about the principle that the partner in our life is a reflection of the one in our mind. I described how, when we allow ourselves to focus on our partner’s challenging qualities, we will more readily see him or her in a negative light, react to the negative charge, and create a vicious cycle in which we experience a continual deterioration of our love bond. On the other hand, when we practice thinking of our partner’s good qualities, we will see more of those good qualities; we therefore react to those good qualities, and this sets up a “virtuous cycle” in which we experience more of those good qualities in our lives.

If this sounds good in principle but you found yourself asking, “what if my partner is a jerk?” take a breath. It probably has to do with attachment, and wounds to your love bond. Learning how attachment affects our relationships gives us a map of the relationship terrain, and a better sense of where we are and how we got here.

Attachment and love bonds

Much of our current understanding of what goes wrong in adult relationships is grounded in the research on attachment in childhood. For several decades now, psychologists, therapists and educators have understood the bond between children and their primary attachment figures ― usually their mothers.

The Strange Situation

Mary Ainsworth conducted the iconic “Strange Situation” experiments in order to study mother-baby attachment. In this simple experiment, a researcher would follow the mother-baby dyad and note how often the mom responded to her baby’s needs and bids for connection. Then, mom and baby would go to an empty playroom; the mother would leave; and then the mother would return. How the baby reacted to mom’s departure and return was remarkably consistent among groups with similar bonding: secure, anxious, and avoidant.

Secure attachment

Babies of attentive, responsive moms tended to be happy, adventuresome explorers of the playroom. When mom left the room, the baby would cry in distress. Modern versions of the experiment use physiological measures to measure heart rate and sweat. These babies experienced increased heart rate, and they started to sweat. When mom would return, baby would allow her to console them. They would calm down, and go back to happily playing. These babies have developed a secure attachment system. They grow up expecting to love and be loved, to have their needs met, and to be comfortable asking for those needs to be met.

Anxious attachment

Babies of unpredictable moms tend to become anxious. They were less willing to explore the playroom, preferring to stay close to mom’s side though they were not interacting with her. When mom would leave the room, they become quite distressed; but when mom would return, these babies would have a hard time calming down. They are developing an anxious attachment system. They often grow up to carry this attachment anxiety into their adult relationships. They feel insecure in love and are never quite certain that they can trust that their partner really loves them and is really going to be there for them.

Avoidant attachment

Babies of unresponsive, aloof moms tend to be aloof themselves. Their primary attachment figure, mom, seems uninterested in forming a close bond to them, and these babies get it; they seem to shut down their drive for closeness and connection. In the Strange Situation, they venture forth and play in the playroom, and appear to be unconcerned when mom leaves them alone. But their affect belies their physiology. When mom leaves the room, baby’s hearts are beating faster and they also start to sweat. When mom returns to the room, their vital stats eventually return to baseline, but they act as if they couldn’t care less. They are developing an avoidant attachment system. They tend to grow up to be avoidant in love; they feel suffocated by a partner who seeks emotional connection and continually engage in distancing behaviors, keeping themselves familiarly aloof.

It has always struck me as sad that parenting mores have probably contributed to the problems of attachment. Many people are still afraid that if they pick up a crying baby, they will “spoil” it, yet exactly the opposite is true. Babies need to be picked up when they cry; they need to feel safe, secure, and well taken-care-of in order to develop secure attachment systems.

Attachment in adulthood

When we are grown, our primary attachment figure is no longer our mother, but our partner. We have a strong drive to form close emotional bonds. However, in our frenetic-paced, time-strapped, isolated culture, the best place to have those needs met is in our romantic relationships.

Research shows that people who have happy marriages are far better off than those in difficult marriages are. Single people are better off than people in difficult marriages are, but not as well off as those in happy marriages. Happily married people not only have the economic benefits that often accompany a two-earner family. They are happier, and they even have physiological advantages. They get sick less often, recover faster, and may even experience less pain.

Attachment in marriage and romantic relationships

The payoffs for connection are great, and the drive for connection exists despite our American cultural myth of independence. We have bought in to the idea that we are supposed to be able to do everything on our own. To have needs is often equated with being needy, and we are not supposed to be needy.

The problem with this is that it is simply not how human beings operate. We all have needs for love and belonging. In modern America, we are disconnected from extended family. Indeed, we are disconnected from our community in any meaningful way. Maybe it’s because we work so much; maybe because we watch so much TV. At any rate, we are a singularly lonely collective. Our romantic partner offers our best hope to have our love and belonging needs met.

But not if we see him or her as a jerk. And when we have been hurt, it is easy to see our partner in just that way. We unconsciously build up walls to “protect” ourselves from our primary attachment figure in an attempt to prevent further hurt. It is important to understand that the “hurt” that causes the breach does not even have to be a big, dramatic hurt. Little unanswered attempts to connect can lead to the same problem as big breaches of trust. Luckily, when we understand that that is what is going on, we are able to take a step toward cultivating a connected, loving partnership. When we have that, we are also able to reap all the many rewards that come with it.

In another article, I will discuss how to shift from blame and criticism, to love and acceptance. Until then, take heart, and keep taking some slow deep breaths….

With our thoughts we create our …marriages

My client was angry with his wife. He thought she was being a drama queen; she was too emotional; she cried too much. Under his frustration lay a sinking feeling of rejection. His old story of not being good enough was getting activated. He was frustrated.

He was also determined. This man loves his wife and family. He wanted to know: how can I improve my marriage?

The one you experience is the one you are thinking about

I asked him to tell me some of the things he liked about his wife. He was a bit surprised but gamely listed them. Once he started, the descriptions started to flow: she is a great mom, very loving, fun to be with, great sense of humor, smart, pretty, sexy, and on and on.

His whole affect noticeably changed. His eyes softened. He smiled. He wasn’t mad.

And then I shared with him a secret, which I am now sharing with you:

The partner you experience is the one you are thinking about.

This makes sense when we pause to reflect on it. If you practice seeing all of someone’s flaws, you will see a person who has all those flaws. But if you practice seeing their good qualities, that is the person you will see. We are more likely to notice the things we are thinking about.

Once something gets our attention, we notice it more readily.

He was skeptical, but open to hearing me out. I asked him about the last time he bought a car. “Do you remember how you noticed all the cars that were just like the one you bought?”  He laughed his affirmation. Like most of my clients, he could relate.

I explained that marriage is kinda like this. Once something gets our attention, we notice it more readily. We experience more of what we pay attention to.

We create a feedback loop; it can be a vicious or a virtuous cycle. Whether it is vicious or virtuous is really up to us.

So if we want to experience a peaceful, loving relationship, that is the one we need to think about when we are thinking about our relationship.

How we see them determines how we respond

This is partly because when we are focusing on our partners’ great qualities we react differently to our partners. We feel more relaxed and at ease with them, and are less likely to feel hurt or aggravated. We will give them the benefit of the doubt. With our sunny, “glass is half full” perspective, we notice the good stuff and more easily let the other stuff go.

A vicious or a virtuous cycle

Imagine that your partner has decided to surprise you by reorganizing the kitchen pantry “for you.” You are coming home from the gym, tired and hungry. The kitchen is a mess; stuff is everywhere; you can’t even see the counter, let alone reach the sink.

If you have been rehearsing stories of how aggravating and annoying your partner is, you will likely be irritated at the chaos. You might roll your eyes, you may criticize. I hope you won’t yell, but if you are not careful, it might come to that. Instead of getting food, you are getting mad… And your partner was trying to do something nice!

Now, if you have been thinking kind and gentle thoughts about your partner, remembering that he or she is a good person who loves and supports you, you will react differently. As hungry and tired as you are, you will be more likely to see the mess as a work in progress and an act of service. You might smile. You may even offer to help. And you probably will eat sooner than the irritated person, who probably got sidetracked in an argument.

The spouse in your mind

The relationship you experience is the one you think about. The spouse you have in your life is a reflection of the one you have in your mind.

Want a happy relationship? Practice thinking of it, remembering the good times. Want a loving partner? Practice thinking about your partner that way.

After all, we are all flawed humans doing our best to get by. When we can offer love, in spite of all of our partner’s faults and limitations, we have an answer to the question: how can I improve my marriage?

And — I was right!

My talk with my client impacted him. I write this because several weeks after our talk, he told me that I was right. He had had time to observe the way he thought about his wife impacted his marriage. Sure enough, he found that the wife he had was the one he was thinking about.

He practiced thinking about her wonderful qualities. When he slipped back into his old pattern and started mentally complaining, he remembered that he wanted to experience a kind and loving wife, so he shifted his thoughts to focus on the good stuff. Inevitably, she seemed less dramatic, he felt more supported.

Many months later, they are happy and loving, and getting along really well!

EFT Quick Start Guide

EFT, the Emotional Freedom Techniques, is a member of the energy psychology (EP) family of psychotherapies. These therapies combine Western psychology methods, mainly drawing on cognitive and behavior principles, with Eastern energy-based healing principles, including acupoint stimulation and chakra balancing. This mind-body approach allows EP techniques to facilitate rapid, positive change. EFT involves acupoint tapping with exposure to an emotionally-charged memory. In my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, clients are making big changes with EFT.

What is EFT?

EFT combines acupoint stimulation with exposure to an emotionally-charged memory or experience. EFT is built on the theory that every emotional problem is rooted in a block in the energy system because any traumatic event, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can cause a blockage in an energy meridian. This blockage can be thought of as similar to a droplet of water inside a drinking straw. Just as we can tap on a straw to release a trapped water droplet, we can tap on an acupoint to remove a block from the meridian.

EFT can be used as a self-help tool as well as in clinical therapeutic settings. It is an effective tool for working with specific traumatic events, such as accidents and medical diagnoses, as well as more broad-based and seemingly intractable issues, such as depression or low self-esteem. We conceptualize this type of broader issue as a “table top” which is supported by traumatic, though often seemingly insignificant, life events or “table legs”. Using EFT, we remove each of the table legs until the table top collapses.

The EFT Protocol

In EFT, we tap on the side of the hand while repeating a setup statement: “Even though I have this problem, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Then we tap on a series of points while just repeating the problem: “But I have this problem.” Before tapping, we assess our subjective units of distress (SUDS). After one round, or several rounds, of tapping, the SUDS will lower to a 0 or 1.

What Does the Research Say?

Researchers in Seoul, South Korea have identified a physical substrate in the body, composed of very small blood vessels, which correspond with the acupuncture meridian system. These vessels comprise what researchers have named the primo vascular system, and seem to transport biophotons, or biologically emitted photon beams of light. This may be the first scientific explanation of the flow of chi.

While researchers in the East have been studying the body’s energy system, researchers in the West have been studying the effects of EP, including EFT. More than 100 studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and 98% have found energy psychology modalities to be effective. To date, four meta-analyses have been conducted, demonstrating a moderate to strong effect size. In the past five years alone, more than fifty studies have found EFT and similar meridian-tapping therapies to be effective for treating depression, PTSD, other anxiety disorders, food cravings, pain, and other physiological symptoms, including blood sugar management and side effects of cancer treatment drugs.

The Takeaway

EFT involves tapping on acupoints while remembering a traumatic event from the past, or while experiencing upset in the present. It is safe and easy to learn, and is an effective tool to relieve many forms of emotional and even physical distress. It may be the best psychotherapy you’d never heard of! Ready to learn more? Get in touch to start your journey to a happier life today.

Establishing Right Human Relations

The following article was published in the summer issue of The Beacon. In my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, I try to bring this perspective in all my work with clients.

The effort to establish right human relations is helpful, indeed essential, in integrating the personality with the soul. The lack of “right relations” comes most often from a selfish attitude and an emotional body that is not held steady in the light. It is disharmony in personal relations that very often causes a person to decide that he or she must get hold of him- or herself and make some changes. Our relationships are indeed our greatest teachers.

The desire and the need for harmonious relationships is quite often the thing that puts us on our Path. The pain we feel as a result of disharmony is a real pain; brain imaging studies show that physical and emotional pain “light up” the same regions of our brains. What’s worse, the pain we feel when we are the perpetrator of disharmony is like added salt in our painful wound; we feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty, in addition to our angers and fears. This is a powerful combination that makes most eventually decide that Something Must Be Done.

The work, once committed to, involves a complete reorientation of thinking – away from oneself as victim, toward oneself as creator. When taking stock, we learn to reframe our point of view to include perspective-taking and empathy for the Other. We begin to practice “not taking it personally” and to recognize that when our emotions are getting riled up, it is not actually about the Other person, but about some wound in our own Self that is needing to be healed. We begin to have compassion for ourselves and to forgive ourselves ― that is an essential piece of personality integration. No longer can the mind spend oodles of energy denigrating the emotional body; instead the ego learns to befriend the inner child and to work with it, to heal it and create peace rather than continuing disharmony.

As we practice detachment, not taking things personally and not assuming that we know what the Other is thinking or feeling, we begin to task ourselves with cultivating Right Speech. We begin to be careful with our words, which slows down our emotional reactivity. Our relationships increase in harmony. With more harmony, we are able to create a spaciousness that allows us to strive for utter harmlessness and self-forgetfulness. The body relaxes; health ensues. The seven points of light begin to radiate and we become a fit vehicle of expression for the Soul.

When we have committed ourselves to a spiritual path, our lives change in incredible ways. The old emotional reactions and underlying assumptions give way to a light and peaceful experience. The very intention to bring more “spirituality” into our lives does indeed invite light, and love, and goodwill. These are the cause and effect of establishing right human relations.

A constant reorientation to spiritual values changes a person. At the moment we decide that there Must Be Something More, and determine to find it, our lives change course. A meditation practice may be the single most important tool for self improvement, and such a practice can be hung on the scaffolding of just about any religious or non-religious tradition. Whether we are searching for Peace through mindfulness or are devoted to the Buddha-nature, the Christ, Ishvara, the Divine, or the Beloved doesn’t matter. We begin to ascend the mountain and as we climb, we find that all of our paths converge.

With this awakening of inclusiveness, there can be no denigration of another spiritual tradition, no room for thinking “my way is the Right Way, and yours is, say, a ‘political ideology’”. From our place of inclusiveness we gain empathy and search for the reasons why people behave, often badly, the way they do. Rather than condemning and judging, we seek to understand and to aid, even as perhaps we wish that the reins of power were held by more-evolved hands.  Yet we find solace in knowing that we all learn through pain – individuals and groups alike,

As we work to invoke the Soul, not only do our worldly views become larger and more inclusive, our close personal relations do as well. We cannot but feel hypocritical if we make a fuss about a spiritual practice and then yell at our kids and criticize our spouses. Any momentary experience of mystical union rings hollow if followed by a fight at home.  The Love of the Soul has made its healing felt in every level of our personality-being and we begin to love and forgive ourselves, and from that peaceful place it is impossible to not-love or non-forgive others. And incredibly, when others criticize us we are far from defensive but rather seek to understand and find common ground. Exuding peace and love, others want to know how did we do that? Having sought the Light, the Light of the Soul has made its presence known and we are changed, and we are agents for change. Our seven centers begin to blaze and light our way, and light the Way for others.

EFT for PTSD

A treatment for PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) that uses no drugs, has no side effects, and really works―does that sound too good to be true? Research shows that such a treatment does indeed exist. EFT, the emotional freedom techniques, can resolve PTSD symptoms in as little as five sessions. Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest hospital systems in the US, just published clinical guidelines for using EFT to treat PTSD. The guidelines were created by Dawson Church and colleagues, after reviewing the literature and surveying 448 practitioners to see how clinicians are getting results. Their recommendation: five to ten sessions of EFT for people with PTSD. EFT works for PTSD. I use it in my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr.

PTSD: military, accidents, and beyond

We often think of war veterans when we think of PTSD, as well we should: the VA estimates, conservatively, that between 11% and 20% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD (other sources put the rate at closer to 30%). The rates are even higher among Vietnam War veterans, with nearly a third suffering from PTSD. But PTSD is not just a problem for the military. Indeed, it can affect people who have been in any traumatic situation: those who have been in serious accidents, victims of violent crimes, or diagnosed with life-threatening diseases can develop PTSD; the death of a loved one can cause PTSD-like symptoms.

PTSD prevalence

Nearly 8 of every 100 Americans are likely to experience PTSD during their lifetimes. Most people will go back to normal after a traumatic event, but some will develop symptoms that last more than a month (subclinical PTSD) or three months (clinical PTSD) and that interfere with their lives. The symptoms involve avoiding or “numbing out”; re-experiencing, often with nightmares or flashbacks; and some type of hyper-arousal, like being easily startled, on edge, having trouble sleeping, even having angry outbursts.

Treating the “un-treatable”

After World War II, people used the term “shell shocked” to describe the symptoms of PTSD. For decades, it was believed that veterans could not recover from PTSD. More recently, researchers have been looking for ways to resolve the previously “unresolvable”. Pharmaceuticals have not been an effective solution. In a creative move, the US government invested millions of dollars in a virtual reality technology to help veterans with PTSD. But that program is only available to some veterans, and is very costly and hard to replicate. EFT is effective, safe, has no side effects, all for the price of a therapy session ― except for veterans, who can get services for free through The Veterans Stress Project.

To learn more about EFT and other kinds of energy psychology, see emofree.com, energypsych.org, and my website, transformative-therapy.com. EFT for PTSD can get your life back on track.

Poetry from the Other Side

Here is a story from my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr. Earlier this summer, a client of mine―I’ll call her Beth―made her transition out of the body. I had worked with her for a year and a half as she battled a very deadly form of cancer. A few weeks before she died, I visited her in the hospital to do some Reiki healing. A couple of days later, I went back to do another healing session, but this time there were endless interruptions and the healing never got done. When I left her that afternoon, I told her that I would check in and do some distant healing. I went home with every intention to do distant Reiki, but when I tried to connect, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to.

Beth and I emailed each other and she wrote that she was in hospice. I offered to come and visit her and do some more Reiki. In a message on Tuesday, she suggested that maybe I could come on Friday. In the days that followed she was in and out of consciousness as I learned from texting with her husband. We never got the visit scheduled for that Friday, so I tried again to do some distant communication and healing.

When I connected with Beth, the first thing that I saw was an image of her body lifted over itself. And then she and I began to have a conversation, in which I was reassuring her that it was OK for her to go. I was guided to say things that I’d never thought of before, and the words flowed through me. It was OK for her to leave her teenage daughter. Her early death had been known since before her daughter was born, and all of the decisions that they had made as a family were leading to this point.

When I finished talking I saw my friend standing before a blazing sun looking radiant and reassured, confident, happy, and powerful. Three days later, she died. I attended her funeral, which was an amazing service filled with reverence and love. Many of the women in attendance were wearing head scarves, and some of them were printed with Beth’s poetry. The day was beautiful, and her spirit was surely there, proud to witness the love and devotion of her community.

On the day following her death, another friend of mine was giving a talk on metaphysics and channeling. At the end of her talk, she led our group through a guided meditation in which we connected with a loved one on the other side. In the exercise, we went up a flight of stairs and down a hallway into a room and sat on a bench. Next to us was a box. We were to open the box and see if it had any contents. Mine contained a scarf printed with Beth’s poetry, but I couldn’t read the words.

And then Beth was there. I started hurriedly talking to her but then decided to stop and pay attention! Immediately I saw an image of two women walking arm-in-arm down a ballroom floor, dressed in Victorian style clothing. After that I saw an image of a white horse’s head. Both images gave me the impression that Beth and I have been friends before – that was the reason we had such an easy rapport and felt so close.

And then Beth read the poem that she had written for me.
“True friendship transcends all bounds of time and place.
“The seeds of friendship once planted blossom over many lifetimes.
“Thank you for being my true friend.”

Thank you, my friend. It is an honor to have crossed paths again.

My life is giving birth to me

Being born is not a comfortable process. I often feel that my life is “giving birth” to me. This is a metaphor that often comes to mind when I’m working with my clients in my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr.

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!

The Chakras: Foundations of Health

The chakras are energy vortices that conduct energy though our energy field and into our bodies. Each of the seven major chakras is associated with a particular gland, and the functioning of the glands is a reflection of the functioning of the chakras. The chakras also affect the organs near them. Each chakra is also associated with a particular set of emotions and with a level of our aura, or energy field. An understanding of our energy and the chakra system informs my work with clients in my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr.

Energy moves through our chakras and into our bodies via nadis, which are etheric or energetic patterns of our nervous system. They also send energy into the governing and central vessels, which run our meridian system; from there, energy is distributed throughout the entire meridian system. It is not an overstatement to say that the function of our chakras is foundational to our overall health and wellbeing. Here are some basic ways the chakras affect our health:

1st chakra: Imbalances in the first, or root chakra affect our “will to live” and ability to get along on the physical plane. When we have a block or sluggishness in our root chakra, we may be “spacey”, or unable to manifest the best life we are meant to live. Over-activity of the root chakras is associated with over-activity of the adrenals, so we feel stressed.

2nd chakra: Imbalances in the second or sacral center are common, as this is the center related to our emotional life. The sacral chakra is related to the gonads, so imbalances lead to sexual problems and problems with the sex glands. Sacral imbalances also lead to emotional problems, and problems with money and relationships. This is an area of creative expression, so a block or over-activity will also affect our ability to create.

3rd chakra: The third or solar plexus chakra is related to the pancreas and its neighbor, the spleen. The spleen is responsible for circulating prana, or energy, throughout our body; it actually has its own mini-chakra, but is closely related to the solar plexus center. The pancreas, of course, is responsible for fueling our body by regulating blood sugar levels. Dysfunction in the solar plexus can lead to blood sugar problems (hypoglycemia or diabetes), lethargy or over-energy, and stomach and digestive complaints.

4th chakra: The fourth or heart chakra is related to the thymus gland, which runs our immune system and is critical for our overall health. Heart chakra imbalances can lead to problems with the thymus and also to heart and circulatory problems. These problems are most always because the heart chakra is blocked or drained.

5th chakra: The fifth or throat center is associated with the thyroid, which regulates our metabolism. Thyroid problems are linked to dysfunction in the throat chakra. This center is also involved in many throat problems and respiratory complaints.

6th chakra: The sixth chakra, the forehead or “ajna” chakra, is associated with the pituitary body, which is responsible for running our entire glandular system. Blocks in the ajna center are related to endocrine imbalances and some sinus and head complaints, as well as vision and hearing problems.

7th chakra: The seventh or crown chakra is related to the pineal gland, which is responsible for producing melatonin, the sleep hormone; it regulates the body clock. Dysregulation of the crown chakra (and its polar opposite, the root chakra) can lead to sleep problems as well as migraines and other brain issues.

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.