Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tips for new therapists

I was visiting an internet forum this morning (what are we supposed to call those now? There are forums, boards, sites, subReddits, groups, lists... just use what you want) and someone asked about tips for new therapists. Even though this blog is aimed at people who GO to therapists, for the most part, I thought you all might get some insight out of what I wrote. If not, then go me for being lazy enough to cut and paste a forum reply and call it new content!

I work with early-career therapists, and I've found over the years that a lot of advice I give them is pretty simple stuff - the same things I try to remember when I work with clients. Here are some of the things I keep repeating:

Slow down and listen. Seriously. Let your client pause and feel without lobbing an intervention in there. Just shut up sometimes.

ALWAYS ask yourself if what you're doing is about you, or about your client. Are you saying something so your client will like you? That's not bad in and of itself, if it's for the client and has to do with relationship-building and gaining trust and openness. If it's so they'll simply like you, shut up and listen. :)

You're doing more than you think you are, simply by listening without judgment. That doesn't mean you don't have work to do, but don't do work simply to do work.

The beauty is in the work. Your journey with your client is what it's all about. You might end up somewhere, but there's a good chance it won't be where you thought you were going.

Clients learn when you don't think they are learning. They feel when you don't think they're feeling. A year later, they'll tell you that something you said changed their life, and you won't even remember saying it. You'll be too busy remembering that amazing intervention you came up with that you were SURE was going to change everything.

You're better than you think you are. Your client is more resilient than you think she or he is. The world is a more complicated place than either of you can fathom, and your job is to simply exist in that moment with your client and do what you can. Be genuine, and keep that in mind.

Therapists aren't perfect. They're humans with some knowledge and skills that others can use. Go easy on yourself.

Boundaries are everything. If you find yourself doing something for your client that you wouldn't do with another client, think seriously about what that is about. Always remember to think about whether your actions are for you, or for your client.

Approach everything with love. Everything.

That's it. Now you're a therapist! Well... almost.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Three quick ways to lift your mood RIGHT NOW.

Change, as you know, can take time. It takes practice to un-learn things, to relearn things, to work at finding the path and staying on it until the changes come. The journey can be a long one.

Sometimes, though, you just want to feel a little something RIGHT NOW. Long term sustainable change is awesome, but every once in a while there's nothing wrong with making a little mid-course correction that you can feel right away. Here are three things you can do that will help right now.

Give a call. Everyone, I mean everyone, has a call they can make to someone who could use it. A friend, a parent, a coworker - someone could really use a call from you that simply says, "I was thinking about you. How are you doing?" The trick here is to not expect anything in return. Call with the simple goal of listening, and caring. Truly listen. Truly care. The rest will follow.

Lend a hand. Unexpected help lifts the mood on both sides of the equation. Carry a grocery bag. Open a door. Take a minute to find a volunteer effort that could use your help. Write a check to a charity and mail it. Donate online to a friend's fundraising walk. It should be pretty easy to find an opportunity.

Drop some praise. "Your yard looks amazing." "I love that coat." "Your smile always brightens my day." Just say something positive to someone. If you're the shy type, push yourself a little. Or, leave a note for the restaurant manager to talk about great service someone gave. Write a letter to someone you admire. The way you do it doesn't matter. The fact that you give appreciate and praise without any expectation of return is what counts.

All of these decidedly little things can do decidedly big things for your mood, but here's the big secret: they can also be completely lame. The key is in your approach. If you're just making another obligatory phone call, that's lame. That won't do a thing for you. If, on the other hand, you decided to completely engage in that moment, if you can find yourself completely in love with that little piece of the path, if you can give all the love you have within yourself through the act of making that phone call, then you're onto something.

It's like everything else - nothing has to be boring, or worthless, or stupid, if we choose to engage in it to the peak of our abilities. Flow is flow, whether you're doing brain surgery or cutting up a piece of celery. Find yourself there, give of yourself, and watch your mood change for the better.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quick practice: non-judgmental listening

Here's one of those little mindful things you can do no matter where you are.

Listening is one of those things that is simple to learn and nearly impossible to master. I spend my workdays listening, and even with all the practice I have had, it's still tough sometimes to separate myself from what my client is saying. My goal, when really listening, is to get rid of that "how does this impact me?" thing that we've been conditioned to do to survive. I want to really open up to what my client is saying - sometimes feeling heard is just what they need to move forward.

Here's your task: whether you're at work or at home, next time someone speaks to you, really listen. As those "hey, what about me" thoughts come in, notice them and let them go. Ask a question about what you just heard, rather than passing judgment or offering a solution or sharing a fear or... you get it.

The opportunity might not come up immediately, especially if you're at work. "Yo, Bob, I'm going to go to the bathroom" is NOT your opportunity to dig in. However, "I'm worried about getting this done on time" is. Think about that scenario, and how quickly we'd say something like "me too... in fact I think we're really getting piled on here," instead of "what do you mean?" or "why?" or "are there other things you're worried about?"

People ask me all the time about social skills, and how to get better at interacting with people. People like to be heard. If you truly listen, you will get your chance to speak. And, if you don't get a chance in that interaction, it simply means that that person had a need to be heard that exceeded anything else. And how can giving them that chance be anything but good?

So, nutshell version: just listen. Ask a question. Indicate that you're willing to hear more. I'm here to tell you that REAL listening saves lives. And, while that might not happen at the office, you might be surprised at how quickly being a great listener pays off in other ways.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A one-minute method to help move past old hurts

When people come to therapy to see me, they're often trailed by an almost-visible string of old injuries - a hypercritical parent, a missed opportunity, a horrible breakup. And, when I point out to them that they've got some past pain stuck on their shoe, their reaction is almost universally the same: "I've been trying to understand why that happened."

I've worked with clients, sometimes for months or years, whose stated goal is to UNDERSTAND. Why did mom act like that? What could I have done differently?

Here's a little secret. Often, when we spend our time trying to understand things in the past, or the things that people have done to us, or the breaks that haven't come our way, what we're really doing is STALLING. Rumination is a defense mechanism that trades little doses of low-level pain to avoid the thing we're really afraid of - moving forward. When we're working on change, maybe it doesn't matter so much WHY your mom treated you like that, as it does HOW to accept it and move forward. Whether she was controlled by aliens, tortured from within by forces you'll never understand (and my money is on this one, by the way) or simply a crabby person, the fact is that it's unlikely that even a crystal-clear understanding will do a whole lot to move you forward. That's your job.

So, here's your one-minute task. Next time you catch yourself in a rumination about the past that has some impact on your present life (as do all ruminations), just do this: Trade a why for a how. Instead of "why did that happen?" just say "How can I move one step forward?"

Approach, don't avoid. Rumination is avoidance, and you'll likely never get the answer you think you so badly need. Pretend like that part of the hard drive is wiped. The question is how, in this beautiful moment of life I've been granted, do I take a step forward? Just one step, not the whole path. Just one moment, not the whole day.

Take your minute. Use it to move yourself forward. Then tell yourself you are beautiful, strong, and capable. Because you are.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Make changes more easily by harnessing the chain of behavior

Most of us have been there - you make a few resolutions at the new year, and they fall by the wayside. A couple of months later, you try again, recalling those failed resolutions and deciding to just go it on your own, regardless of what the calendar says.

Now the year is half over. Despite your heroic attempts at approaching the problem, rather than avoiding, the changes just haven't taken effect. You lose your focus. You don't really have a solid plan in the first place.

With that being said, however, there are certainly times when a resolution makes a lot of sense. For example, that four-dollar latte is costing you about a thousand dollars per year. Why not try to cut it from your routine?

Here's where you've got some decisions to make. Back in the good old days, you'd summon up your willpower, that magical quality that was apparently bestowed upon some of us at birth while the rest of us spent our days striving to figure out how to find it. The legend had it that willpower would take you through these sorts of things - you'd just power through, forgo those lattes, and be done with it.

The problem, of course, is that willpower isn't really a thing at all. Some people have a personality that makes it easier to do some things, and others have personalities that serve them in areas unattainable by the willpower crowd. If you're one of the many who didn't receive that willpower gene, it's time to resort to good old behavioral science. In this case, you'll be calling upon the Chain of Behavior to help you stop sipping those spendy coffee drinks.

The Chain of Behavior works like this - think about all of the steps it takes to get that latte into your mouth. You have to pay for it, sure... but before that, you have to walk into the coffee shop. And before that, you have to get to the street the coffee shop is on. To do that, you have to leave wherever you are before you go to the coffee shop. And, to get where you are before you go to the coffee shop, you have to drive, or walk, or take the bus from your house. And, don't forget payment - to pay for that latte, you have to have your wallet or purse with you, and money in your purse, and... well, you get the idea.

So, that's the chain. If you break it, you don't buy the latte. You can break it at many points, but the further up the chain you go, the better the chance of success. Not walking into the coffee shop is great. Not being on that street is better. Not having your money with you is even better! See how it works? Figure out the chain of events that get you to the last link. Then break the chain as far up as you can.

This also works with things you are trying to add to your life, not just trying to quit. There's a chain that gets you in the gym that starts with having the time, and the gear, to work out. Putting your clothes in your gym bag is a link. Putting your gym back into your car is a link. You get the idea.

So, to those of you who are still working on those resolutions, best of luck. Hopefully figuring out the links to your particular chains will help you succeed. And for those of you who are just plugging along, day by day, everything you do is a chain as well. Take a look at the links, make adjustments where you can, and keep trying your best. And, whatever you do, don't forget to give yourself some praise and reward when you wrestle one of those chains into submission. You can do it!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ask the Doc: When a therapist breaks your trust

Q. Someone dear to me was a client of a counselor/therapist who radically broke her trust, and she's never been able to trust any counselor/therapist since. How do you learn to trust a therapist/counselor after your trust has been betrayed by one? (I asked for additional information, and was told that the therapist shared personal information about the client without permission, in order to enable the person outside the relationship to "help with the therapy).

First, before I go anywhere else with this answer, I want to express my dismay about what happened to your friend. As with any profession, there are people who don't follow the rules. I've had clients tell me about a prior therapist who fell asleep in session, or walked out to take personal phone calls. These rogue professionals are thankfully rare, but they do exist. The therapy relationship is entirely built on trust, and your friend's experience has created an injury that will be hard to overcome.

While no one can "fix" this situation, here are some things for your friend to think about while considering whether to give therapy another try. The options range from reporting the therapist to simply working on rebuilding an attitude of trust, and all are about choices that your friend can make.

One choice your friend can make is to report the therapist for a confidentiality violation. If the therapist is licensed, the state licensing board will handle the complaint. This is obviously not a choice to be made lightly, as your friend would need to continue to be involved in this traumatic situation. I always inform my clients of their rights when they feel they've been harmed by their previous therapist, and I always understand when pursuing a complaint sounds too difficult to them. I'm there to support them in whatever they choose to do. This is what you can do for your friend, as well. Let them know about their choices, and support them unconditionally.

Another choice to be made is when (and whether) to reengage in therapy. If therapy begins again, the choices are about how much to disclose, and when to disclose it. The difficulty here is that this kind of dilemma is perfect therapy fodder, and your friend is likely very resistant to therapy. Some make the choice to "get back on the horse," while others need to let time heal the wounds.

Your friend will likely need to spend some time considering her feelings, really thinking about what will be needed to rebuild a trusting relationship. When the time comes to disclose things in therapy, the process will be made easier by having thought beforehand about where the boundaries are, and what the true feelings are. A good therapist will be open to working on this process - your friend can tell the therapist that a core issue is trusting the therapist, and the work can begin there. A good, careful therapist will be willing to take as much time as needed, while at the same time knowing when to gently push a little.

As therapists, we understand that our clients have often navigated a bumpy road before ending up in our office. We get that we might have to start from scratch, maybe more than once. I hope your friend can forgive herself if she feels gun-shy, and I hope she can realize that it will be difficult to start a new therapeutic relationship. It's okay if she starts and stops before she finds someone she can trust. The therapy work is about her, not about the therapist, and it's perfectly natural for her to pick her way carefully down the path.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Try this today...

Set an alarm for two hours from now. Use your phone, a kitchen timer, whatever works. When the alarm goes off, do this:

- Take five deep breaths. Visualize the stress of the last two hours leaving your body, and fresh energy for the next two hours entering your body.

- Look in a mirror. Say "I love you. You're doing the best that you can."

- Take 30 seconds to say something nice to someone, either in person or via text or email.

- Set your alarm for two more hours. Repeat.

Try it. Just for today.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

One tiny gesture can change your day

There are times when we lose track - we get lost in the everyday grind and just forget what got us there in the first place. It's easy to do in a busy day. I'll often tell my clients to take a moment to engage their bodies - to do something physical to give themselves a tangible reminder of something they're trying to keep in their mind. Here's something I wrote that illustrates what I'm talking about, albeit in a little more poetic way. I think you'll see what I'm getting at, though.

There are uncounted times when powers of abstract reasoning fail and the fog of doubt clings to the shoreline without hope of lifting - in those disquieting moments there is pure solace to be found in the power of the body, motor movements both gross and fine, regression to the physical mean of sinew and synapse. All inward-gazing philosophy rests upon the grounding power of the body, the sweet slide of muscle fiber, the beating of the human heart, the symbolic weight of the human grasp.

Each day in my internship, I would stride across a bridge that spanned a small creek. The creek was gorgeous and verdant, a riparian paradise no matter the season. I’d stop on the bridge, the beams worn smooth by hand and foot, by generations of students who parked their cars in the real world and then trudged across into the academic fantasy land of Reed College. I’d stand in the middle each morning, halted halfway, and I’d make the transition to work with a small physical gesture that reminded me to be open to what happened there. I’d open my arms and welcome the grass-scented air, my mind conjuring the smell of ivy clinging to hand-hewn limestone, no ivory in those towers. I’d pull my day into my consciousness with that small physical gesture, and I’d continue my walk to the counseling center.

Each day I’d toil in the service of the university, in the hope of bringing comfort to the students who were struggling to succeed in such a lofty environment. Successive clients would bring successive tensions, and I’d carry them in my body and in my mind. Lunch breaks were often sodden with the damp weight of disappointment or depression or drug abuse, my mind racing to make sense, to discover what to do next, how to help. I was new at full time therapy, and I was overwhelmed, and in my job you didn’t show it because everyone else was overwhelmed too, students and staff and faculty all in it together, holding up the crushing load of a top-level university. Everyone bore their share, everyone supported a wall or a staircase or a shelf in the library, and no one wanted it to come crashing down.

These were my days at the Reed College Counseling Center - halt halfway on the bridge in the morning, willingly accept the piling of trouble on emergent trouble, stay engaged and open and try to learn while all around me others did the same. The secret, the thing that kept me from dragging everything back to the car and packing it up to bring home to a young family, was what happened on that bridge at the end of the day.

At the end of each workday, after the notes were filed and the lights were turned off and the chairs were moved back into place, empty of sobbing students and struggling new therapist, I retraced the steps that had brought me there. On that same bridge, above the mossy green banks of that slow moving creek, I’d halt again. This time, though, I’d bring myself into my body, deep into where my heart beat and my lungs filled and emptied, and I’d pull my day out through my veins and I’d will my day into the warm and empty palms of my hands. I’d stand with my hands cupped, and I would fill them with my day, with all of it. When I’d emptied myself of my day, when my heart beat with fresh blood and my lungs filled with air free from the worries of students, I’d step to the worn handrails of the bridge and I’d turn my upturned hands over. I’d drop my day into the slow moving creek, watch it as it dissipated, some caught in little eddies by the moss, some flowing straight and true, all the way to the ocean.

Some days all it takes is the knowledge, deep in your bones, that a few simple movements can change everything.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Listen to your heart. Your emotions are the one true thing in your life. Trust yourself, forgive yourself, believe yourself. Love yourself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

This moment

This exact moment is the one that contains your entire existence. Live it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What's my therapist thinking?

Like every blogger everywhere, I check my "stats" once in a while, curious to see what brought people to this particular corner of the interwebs. Often, some variation on "what is my therapist thinking?" Or "does my therapist like me?" pops up. And it makes all the sense in the world.

In therapy, one of the things you do as a client is to open yourself up, often to a greater degree than you would with a close friend. Of course you'd like to know how that's being received. Coupled with the therapist's duty to make the therapy session about the client, and not about the therapist, there's a knowledge gap there that can be uncomfortable to tolerate.

While I can't purport to know what every therapist is thinking in session (yikes! No thanks!), I can tell you a little bit about how that process works for me. And, if this is well-received, I may just take a flyer on a "does my therapist like me?" post somewhere down the road. MAYBE.

One of the things I dearly love about therapy work is that it is so engaging. I can truly say that there are very few times that I'm thinking about anything but my client when I'm in the middle of a session. Distractions outside the room abound - as hard as we try to eliminate them - but my focus is on my client. If I'm tired, stressed about something in my personal life, sick... those things really do tend to melt away in session. I'm in the midst of a flow state, when I'm doing it right.

So, I'm not thinking about things outside the room. What's going on inside the room that I'm focusing on? Therapy's complicated. A good therapist is tracking all kinds of meta-communication, like body language, vocal tone, eye contact - and parsing it all in the context of that client, the depth of the relationship (new client? Long-term?), cultural differences, etc. We look for changes in the meta-communication between sessions, and especially within session - if your eyes shift at a telling moment, if I see tears welling, if your smile isn't congruent with what you're saying, I'll point that out if the time is right. But, I have to think about whether the time is right.

We listen for content, but we try not to get too wrapped up in stories. If I'm trying too hard to remember who Uncle Bob is, and why Aunt Marge is mad at him, I'm likely to lose track of the emotional content of what's happening in the room at that moment.

Have you ever seen one of those shots of a TV control room, or a NASA launch center, with all the monitors displaying different content? Yeah. It's like that.

Another thing we're paying attention to is your safety, if that's been an issue for you. We assess for risk on a number of levels. We sometimes grimace a little, internally, when you tell us that you're going to do something that we both know is not good for you. I'm not your parent, though. Autonomy is important to me. And, if you say something that really resonates with me, that makes me remember something in my life, I have to make a very quick decision about whether or not to tell you about it. Self-disclosure isn't taboo for me, but there needs to be a reason for it.

For me, above all, therapy is about acceptance. If I can't find it within myself to truly accept you, and all that you bring each week, I can't do my job. For that reason, I really do believe that some people are able to be therapists, and some aren't. When I tell you that I'm not judging you, I mean it. The day that I'm not able to do that, I'll stop doing therapy. I love the challenge of being myself within the confines of the therapy relationship. That keeps every day, every session, worthwhile for me. Paperwork, getting to and from the office, relationships with coworkers, all of that can be difficult, but it can wait for when you've left my office.

The therapy relationship is a complicated one, but at its heart are some very simple things - respect, autonomy, acceptance - and as long as I stay there and try not to work too hard, I think I'm doing my job.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fear vs. Inspiration

I was wandering the internet the other day, no doubt seeking some universal truth or maybe just some freshly-unearthed cat memes. A run down my Twitter timeline led me to this link, a collection of Carpenters songs stripped down to just Karen's vocal tracks and maybe a bass line.

I was transfixed for a while, both tumbling back in time to when I was sporting some very Carpenter-esque bell-bottoms and other 70s embellishment, and absolutely frozen into place by Karen Carpenter's angelic, transcendent vocals. Go, listen, and then come back and read the rest of this. Go.

I sat there on my sofa, eyes closed, earbuds effectively acting as a time machine and a temporal barrier to anything 2012. Later, reading the comments on the post, I saw that others had done the same, immediately plopped in the middle of a restless Saturday spent housecleaning with parents, hearing the now nearly lost sound of the needle dropping onto vinyl and wandering for a precious millisecond until it found the first groove on the LP and tracked its way through to the end. I remembered those little spaces between songs on an album, the breathing room between songs, when you could see one tiny etched line that guided the tonearm to the next song, and the next. Album sides were an unbroken inward spiral, and if you were lucky your favorite artist would put a pre-Easter egg Easter egg on the album, sticking some little final song at the end for you that would go undiscovered until one day you forgot to get up and pick up the needle, and it would start, and you'd marvel at the intersection of whimsy and technology.

I listened to her voice, there on the couch, and thought about what it would be like to be an aspiring singer hearing something this perfect for the first time. Would you give up? Would you listen to her command of dynamics, her perfect pitch, the liquid clarity of her voice and just go do something else, never to pick up a microphone again? Would you feel so under-equipped, so unarmed, that your dream would die?

You've been there, haven't you? You design a few houses and then spend a day at Falling Water, you pick up a guitar and strum a few chords and then someone plays some Richard Thompson. You play a few open mics and then you listen to Karen Carpenter, all artifice stripped away, all cheesy double-tracked 70s doo-wahs pulled out without mercy to leave you staring at the reality that you will never get there, ever, and why even try?

You write some things, and you read a William Styron paragraph and you wonder about maybe just chucking your keyboard over a bridge somewhere, maybe giving it a temporary life as a bird, a more lofty life bestowed than your clumsy fingers will ever give.

Or maybe you find a flicker of inspiration. Maybe rather than compare, you exult in the ability of the human mind and your intricate corporeal machine to muster such beauty. Maybe, just maybe, that Styron paragraph and that Thompson chord and that Carpenter vocal are allowed to just saturate your soul and remind you that there is always room for more art, more beauty, more inspired passion in the world.

Maybe no one is under-equipped. Maybe some are just under-inspired, and overly scared, and maybe all it takes is just to try.

Maybe the beauty is truly in the work.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just for today...

Just for today, give yourself the love, kindness and care that you would give to your best friend. The beauty of self forgiveness is that it's the most contagious thing in the world.

If it works, if it makes your day just a tiny bit easier, try it again tomorrow.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When celebrities leave us

Whitney Houston died last night, leaving behind a very public and very complicated legacy. As with all celebrities, she represents different things to different people - an angelic singer, an example of the ravages and wear that drug use can inflict on humans, the butt of a joke, the recipient of a pure gift from God. We are all as complicated and flawed as Whitney Houston was. Most of us are lucky enough to live out those complications and flaws without direct scrutiny every day of our lives.

As I've said before, I'm all over the internet, all the time, as are many of you. The news of Whitney's death came moments after its discovery, the tweets and posts and status updates flooded in immediately after that. Some wept, some joked, some chastised others for how they reacted. Her death was a big blank screen, as are all celebrity passings, for us to interpret and digest however we will. People get sad and angry and irreverent, all based on what the death means to them. Then the cycle continues, and comments beget comments, which brings more anger or sadness or irreverence.

There's an easy way to break the cycle, actually. As with all grief, there's not much that can be done from the outside other than to listen with compassion and empathy. If someone is saddened by a celebrity death, that's their right. If it triggers "inappropriate" humor elsewhere, that person also has a perfect right to that reaction. If you want to add anything at times like these, add a little love, either actively or by simply letting things go in the heat of the moment.

Here's the thing, though... If in the course of these comments you see, or jokes you hear, someone truly offends you or says something hurtful about people you love, or perpetuates bigotry or injustice, it is certainly your right to tell them so. Your emotions and your reactions are your only real truth. How you express them is your decision. But, so many times, those things have already been said, and avoiding the pileup is helpful in the long run.

As for Whitney Houston, my condolences to her family and friends and everyone reached by her amazing talents. If you're one of them, my condolences to you as well.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Get started making changes: 3 ways to find your start point

It happens over and over again - my clients want to change. I urge them to start from where they are TODAY. They want to change! Things will be better once they are calmer or angrier or more outgoing or more introspective!

Every once in a while, someone considers what I've said, and then they ask the question: "How do I know where to start? If I'm going to accept who I am... who am I?"

Easy, right? Should be no problem putting together a blog post that tells you how to figure out who you are! Well, maybe not so much. But here are a few easy ideas for getting started down that path, and finding out what it is you really want. Because, as I've said to about a million clients by now, people tend to be happier when they change their environment to suit themselves than when they try to change themselves to suit their environment. (Warning: You may hear me say that again sometime.)

1. Pay attention to what worries you the most. You're trying to tell yourself something. If your biggest anxiety is that you have to get up and go to work, is it about working, or is it about the kind of work you do? Is it about performing under deadline pressure? Is it about the people with whom you work? See what I'm driving at? "I'm anxious about work" doesn't tell you much about yourself. "I don't like working with people," or "I don't like driving for 45 minutes a day" tells you a lot more.

2. Pay attention to what others say. Same thing here - what are people telling you that you do well? What are their worries about you? This is less about what people reward you for (because often that's about what they NEED from you) and more about what people tell you about yourself when you really listen without judgment and without trying to deflect attention from yourself.

3. Go and learn. Follow your curiosity, follow your whims, follow that little voice that wonders what it would be like to be a professional pole vaulter. Those whims are your soul trying to be heard over the voice of your boss and your kids and everyone else. This is important to know - you are much, much more free than you've ever imagined that you are. Make the things in your life a CHOICE. Any of you reading this could head out the door, right now, and walk (drive, roll, crawl) to the nearest ocean. It would be difficult for many, and it would cause some major repercussions for most, but you COULD. And armed with that knowledge, all you need to do is figure out where to draw the line.

And, remember, try and find the joy in the DOING, as much as you'll find the joy in the getting there. The beauty, as always, is in the work.

Time to get started.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to walk your way to mindfulness

brave souls

I have a client who is lost in the future. Not in the literal sense, luckily, although she could come back and tell me who to bet on in this year's Super Bowl. My client is a capital-P Planner. She fights her anxiety by try to fool herself into thinking that she can predict how things are going to go. She'd love to finish school and travel with her boyfriend. She plots ways to convince him. And, all the while, she makes a very sincere effort to "live in the moment."

Living in the moment is great. But, it's hard. We work on it, together, and her thoughts come in and whisk her away to the future, where everything is planned and settled and stable and predictable. I don't blame her. She's in the middle of some tough stuff right now, and maybe the future is an easier place to be. But, in the meantime, she's not very present in classes and she's kind of waiting for things to get done so she can be happy.

Sound familiar? We'd all love to "be in the moment," but no one ever tells us how to do that. Here's something to get you started: walking mindfulness.

Next time you've got a walk of more than a few steps, take a minute before you start moving and breathe. No goals, no right or wrong, just a few deep breaths. Now, step-by-step, NOTICE your feet. Feel them touch the ground. Feel your toes. Feel your ankles. Count your steps if you want, or find a rhythm to a song. Keep breathing. Feel your foot touch the ground. Acknowledge the strength of the legs that carry you, the feet that support you, the heels that strike the ground with each step to move you where you want to be.

As the thoughts come, smile with acknowledgement, and take another step. Go back to noticing your feet, and to giving gratitude for just how amazing they are. Just find a pace, and feel your footsteps.

The more I work with clients who would like to quit feeling as though they are missing their lives, waiting for the next thing, the more I realize that it's as simple as being in your body, for better or worse. And just being there.

Monday, January 9, 2012


It's Monday morning, and it's filthy jet inky black out there. Feels that way, anyway. I pull the strap of my bag over my shoulder and I head out the door.

I put one foot in front of the other on these mornings. I give thanks for the lack of rain, or if it's raining, for dry feet. The path is the same, every day... cross the street in front of the neighbor's house, diagonal weave across a dead dark expanse of asphalt, hop the sidewalk, push play. Music seeps in to my soul, some days more slowly than others, and as the rhythm establishes itself I pick up my pace.

I always think, right at first, that music choice matters, but the funny thing is that it makes no difference at all. Whether it's those first few steps, those breaths of fresh air, the sweet assault of the cold bracing dead-quiet early morning, whatever it is I'm moving more quickly now, expanding into my day. I start tiny, a speck on the neighborhood map. And I grow.

Thoughts of work float into my consciousness. I acknowledge them and gently encourage them to be on their way. There will be time to work when I get there. This is time to grow into myself, to take up the room I need to take. This is time to come into the world.

My feet contact the pavement, the ground, the concrete, the leftover rainpuddles and condensation settled into dips in the giant parking lot I cross. I feel the world in my feet. I feel the world move into me and make me the world. I start so small on this walk to the transit center. I start all crumpled up and sleepy and I let the world feed me until I am the world.

The parking lot is huge. Above it is scrawled a line of trees and clouds, daring me to be larger, a crossbar to high-jump. There is a lightening in the east reflected in a bank window. The sun is pulling me upward now with just a hint of its presence. I grow. I take the lot with one stride as I scurry across it, a collection of molecules, a presence as giant as the distant fiery ball of the sun. Big as the universe, small as a blade of grass.

This is all it takes. It seems like such a secret, and begs incredulity. Work so hard for so long, and then you give up and realize that you've done it. You've been a part of it all along. You've been all of it all along. Breathe in and take what's yours, for it is all yours. Give everything you have, for none of it truly belongs to you.

We are all so small. And we are all as big as the universe.

If you'd like to read more of my essays, check out Happy Monday!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Skip the resolutions

The first of the year brings an onslaught of posts about how to keep your resolutions, why to not make resolutions, making resolutions easier, there are no such things as resolutions, finding willpower, giving up and just eating a crapton of chocolate, etc.

I'm not big on resolutions, just as I'm not a big list-maker. I think that, just as with list-making, resolution-making is often done to lower anxiety. Rather than sitting there thinking "oh, no, the new year is here and I'm going to be the same old schlub!" you make a list of ways that you can change yourself. And, if you're like many people, you then get to watch yourself fail repeatedly.

Here's something to try. Rather than resolving to do a pile of things, make one simple choice to approach one thing that you're avoiding. Then, make that same choice the next day. Here's how it works: Say you're sitting at your desk. In front of you is a letter from your health insurance company, telling you that you have to do something time-consuming and irritating like fill out a form, or call someone, or some other mundane task. 2011 you would simply grimace and move on to something important like watching cat videos on the internet. 2012 you, though, sees it as the perfect opportunity. You feel the AVOID feeling. You do the APPROACH thing. You fill out the form. You resume watching cat videos while basking in the sweet, sweet feeling that you've taken care of your approach for the day.

Approaching can be tough, because avoidance is usually done to reduce fear in some way. It is uncomfortable to approach, and that's why we don't do. But, by getting in the habit one day at a time, rather than in the face of a giant, daunting list of resolutions, can go a long way toward helping you be the 2012 person you'd like to be.

Give it a try!