Gratitude: A Poem

camp graceWaking up from a dream, I discover myself laying beneath a tree.

It is lovely, tall, green.

It asks for nothing besides this plot of land: a place to grow and be.

The wind disturbs the branches, limbs dance above my head.

I ponder, wondering what sight I’d see here if thunder storms rolled in.

There is no where to hide, no way to run when skies change from blue to gray.

The tree does not think on these things. It exists today.

All things impermanent. Always changing. Nothing guaranteed.

No crystal balls or time machines. Simply you and me.

Grass between my toes, sun in my hair.  Tears forming in my eyes.

Struck by Gratitude for such a moment, humbled by the love I feel inside.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

A Short Reflection on Money

Lately I have really enjoyed reading Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself. His reflections are simple yet profound and refreshing. He talks on many subjects, relatable to young and old alike. Perhaps one of my favorite writings of his is on the topic of money. Below I share his thoughts…

ntms“The number of things just outside of the perimeter of my financial reach remains constant no matter how much my financial condition improves. With each increase in my income a new perimeter forms and I experience the same relative sense of lack. I believe that I know the specific amount needed that would allow me to have or do these few things I can’t quite afford, and if my income would increase by that much I would then be happy. Yet, when the increase comes, I find that I am still discontent because from my new financial position I can now see a whole new set of things I don’t have. The problem will be solved when I accept that happiness is a present attitude, not a future condition.” (Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself).

I read this several times wanting to let it sink in…perhaps it resonates with you as well. What stands out most to me here is the “sense of lack” Prather refers to.  In a country and society of plenty, we are bombarded with messages of the opposite…messages about the next, new thing we must have. I believe that Prather is on to something when he presents an alternative. To be open and grateful for what we have in the present provides a welcome relief from the unrelenting, anxiety-provoking game that is the “hustle for more”.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

Courage: A Poem

Courage

imageStanding on the sidelines,

a spectator peering in.

Distant, safe, hidden and tame,

Yet inside an untapped flame.

An option lands before me.

Timid, I look down.

Sensing my heartbeat racing,

the question floats here now.

imageTo remain still, the pull is strong,

tempted to stay warm here in my hole.

Yet, Courage, you nudge me, winking,

whispering desires within my soul.

 

Two steps forward,  I am moving,

fear, uncertainty by my side.

 imageShaky legs and sweaty fingers,

nervous, in the scope of others’ sight.

Discovering purpose, I reach closer,

making room they let me in.

Blood pumping, I feel bolder.

Richly alive, I am seen.

Retreating – once an option,

imagenow seems further from my mind.

Curiosity and excitement leading,

pushing me past the shy divide.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

On Feeling Stuck & How Therapy Helps

In my time meeting with new clients, I often hear some variation of this shared: “I don’t know…I just feel stuck.” This experience of feeling stuck leads many people to consider and potentially try therapy.  I have a hunch that at some point most people find themselves in such a place…

But what does it mean? This stuck-ness, what is it? And is it as vague as it sounds?

imageSometimes, yes it is. Unlike other times when a very clear obstacle or event causes pain, feeling stuck can mean finding oneself in a more general, emotionally undesired and familiar place. This place may involve a mixture of feelings – of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, envy, and sadness. Like wandering through a forest, hoping to find a clearing, yet winding back to the same ‘ole stump, it may feel like you have traveled in circles.
Perhaps you and the stump look a bit different now and the surrounding landscape has changed some too. However, the underlying ground and root issues remain, bringing forth similar tension each time.

If we dig a bit deeper and put names to these often-vague yet familiar places of being stuck, the following may serve as examples:

• Stunted…restrained by self-doubt, fear, and lack of confidence
• Lack of closeness and authenticity in relationships
• General boredom & apathy
• Unclear boundaries with others & people-pleasing behaviors
• Avoidance of emotions (i.e. “pushing down feelings”)
• Unsatisfied and frustrated by school, career, or overall life direction

…just to name a few.

How Therapy Helps:

In response to feeling stuck, I find that it is important to seek understanding. We need to understand what keeps us coming back to our familiar places in order to ultimately head in a new direction…

Therapy invites you to take intentional time for this. It involves a commitment to self – a decision to pause amidst the chaos and choose awareness. In doing so, we can begin to gain insight into the patterns and tendencies which continue to re-emerge. By taking this step we also learn more about how heartache, rejection, and how other painful parts of our individual stories have impacted us. Due to this, therapy includes a leaning-in to the discomfort of our vulnerable feelings to know what our emotions are telling us. It also entails asking important questions such aswho am I, what causes me pain, and what do I hope for?

Finally, therapy is a brave step in the journey of healing. In the presence of a caring and focused counselor, therapy offers us a chance to go – at our own pace – into the hurting places of our hearts with purposes of being understood, seeking clarity, and finding new possibility. Along the way…perhaps we discover why we tend to return to “the stump” and with greater knowledge and comfort, find that we can move forward in a new way.

As a helping professional, I feel grateful for the chance to walk with people as they set aside the time to invest in their wellbeing and explore the depth of themselves in the hopes of growth.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

16 Films for the Heart & Soul

With the cold, rainy, gray days of winter, I find that there is ample time spent indoors. As a self-proclaimed movie-lover, I try to take advantage of this time by watching films – be it classics, the newest Oscar-nominated movie, a documentary found on Netflix, or a fun animated adventure. Below are 16 of my favorite movies. Each of these touch my heart with how they highlight important perspectives on the human experience. Perhaps enjoying a meaningful book or a heartfelt movie can inspire you with doses of compassion, courage, & love during these dark, wintry days.

  1. The King’s Speech : for empowerment and owning your voice
  2. king's speechBig Fish : for living a big life
  3. 42 : for courage & justice
  4. foxFantastic Mr. Fox : for embracing your true (quirky) self
  5. The Pursuit of Happyness : for perseverance & hope
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower : for self-acceptance & navigating pain
  7. Goodwill Hunting : for trust & healing
  8. How to Train Your Dragon : for discovering unlikely friends
  9. dragonThe Imitation Game : for believing in your genius
  10. The Martian : for resilience
  11. The Hobbit  (trilogy) : for risk-taking & bravery
  12. Seeking a Finding for the End of the World : for connection and comradeship
  13. truman showWhen Harry Met Sally : for vulnerability & love
  14. Burt’s Buzz (documentary) for beauty in simplicity
  15. Wreck it Ralph : for knowing your value
  16. The Truman Show: for finding your own way

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

On Love & Humility in an Age of Division


imageLast Friday the world was shaken by yet another frightening tragedy. We mourn the loss of so many innocent victims in Paris whose lives were abruptly ended and hurt for the families and friends grieving such painful loss. The immense sorrow that resonates from this attack feels similar to other heartbreaking incidents abroad and here in the U.S.  Acts of violence carried out throughout the world and human history remind us that no country, nationality, race, or religious group has gone untouched by cruelty. Further, mass tragedies do not tell the whole story. Closer to home, violence is experienced in our own backyards by those of all ages & backgrounds. I am left asking:

How can people do this to people? How can human life be so devalued?

In the past few days I have finished reading a new favorite book – a classic read by psychotherapist/author Erich Fromm. His thoughts in The Art of Loving feel at the same time fundamentally basic as well as profoundly refreshing. In light of such heaviness concerning massive loss, violence, and pain, his thoughts on love and the effect of love’s absence in this divisive age provides insight…

Age of Division:

“If I perceive in another person mainly the surface, I perceive mainly the differences, that which separate us. If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity, the fact of our brotherhood. This relatedness from – center to center rather than from periphery to periphery – is our ‘ central relatedness'” (1956).

Human history is littered with hate between groups, and therefore this ‘Age of Division’ stretches wide. As Fromm notices, when we so quickly make judgements based on “how they are not like me”, we often miss out on experiencing our inherent connectedness as human beings – our similar capacities for life, loss, joy, pain, & despair. Why do we do this?

Often fear of difference keep us separate. We can see this on a group as well as individual level. When people mistake same-ness for security and like-ness for value, people suffer.

“Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity…He is alienated from himself, his fellow man, and from nature” (1956, 97).

As Fromm explains here, when we merely see others as well as ourselves as commodities – merely ‘things’ of ‘good use’ or ‘no use’ to our own aims – we also deeply miss out. On a very subtle individual level, we may find we do this quite often. We prioritize our wants over other people when we continually see this person or that person as ‘in my way’.

Ironically, having more power, wealth, or status than – which is often the aim of selfish desires – never quite satisfies. When people & relationships simply exists to make our individual lives easier, we miss out on much deeper beauty and meaning that exists in life, love, and connection.

Love & Humility:

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“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person: it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole” (1956).

“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling it is a practice” (1956).

In an answer to the suffering that comes from this division, Fromm shares an answer found in love. He sees love as a conscious choice and action. Unlike the “falling in love” experienced in fairy tales, movies, and in periods of infatuation, this love is not based around idolizing another individual as “a perfect fit.” Rather, it is founded in the way we orient ourselves to others. This orientation of love is marked by compassion, respect, and overall dignity for the existence of others.

In his theory, love is deeply linked to humility. The two are dependent on one another. Humility asks us to see a person for who he or she is rather than what we reflexively wish them to be or fear them to be. It means we take time to understand people who may be quite different than us. It also requires admitting to ourselves that just like we are complex and full of mysteries – so are others. Though it may be much easier to categorize and judge rather than seek to know, this knowing allows for genuine connection between ourselves and those who may have very different experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs from ourselves.

I felt challenged by reading The Art of Loving. In times when we witness such darkness and hatred in the world, reflecting on our on views and treatment of fellow mankind feels incredibly significant.

Fromm, Erich. (1956). The Art of Loving. New York, New York: Harper and Row, Inc.

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Thank you for reading! To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

“The Stories We Tell Ourselves”: Thoughts on Brené Brown’s ‘Rising Strong’

Today I share my thoughts on Brené Brown’s newest book Rising Strong. The book is a continuation of her first two, The Gifts of Imperfection & Daring Greatly (which I have reviewed here). In it she continues sharing her findings of years of research on the topics of living wholeheartedly – or from a place of worthiness -through embracing vulnerability. This time around she looks at what happens when we live honestly & wholeheartedly yet still fall and are confronted with “face-down” moments such as heartbreak, grief, and failure. Brene describes the progression of her three writings this way:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Be you.

Daring Greatly: Be all in.

Rising Strong: Fall. Get up. Try again.

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The Middle can represent the middle of our stories – the parts we must rumble with if we are to get a true & honest picture of reality.

I highly recommend people read Rising Strong in its entirety – it’s impossible to sufficiently cover all of its insight in single a blog post. What I can offer here is my favorite takeaway of Rising Strong: what Brené refers to as “Rumbling” – or getting honest with ourselves – about “the stories we tell ourselves.”

The Stories We Tell Ourselves:

“The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.” (77).

By referencing the work of psychologists and neuroscientists, Brené brings attention to the power of narrative in our individual minds and thus lives. Life is hard and complex, and our brains in an attempt to make sense of the world around and within us, gravitates towards narratives, or stories, to bring about clarity. Its largely an unconscious process we do every day and almost every hour.

“Our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain” (79).

What we see and what is described above is how our minds work, especially when we are confronted with feelings of hurt, disappointment, fear, and anger. The gaps – the not knowing – brings pain and discomfort. So we often fill them in. Further, Brené describes this internal storytelling we do as both powerful and historical. Powerful because it is historical.  In “clearing up ambiguity” or uncertainty, we often return to the old but familiar stories – stories ingrained in childhood, imprinted from a traumatic event, or begun in even subtle yet consistent ways, often when our emotions and minds are vulnerable. We do this, as she describes, out of “an immediate need to self-protect” (78).


imageConspiracies & Confabulations:

“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability..” (82).

In challenging us to dig deep and be honest about the stories we tell ourselves, Brené asks us to consider the “conspiracies & confabulations” which infiltrate our stories the most. Examples of conspiracies held can include the “I’m not _____________ enough” beliefs. Not smart enough, attractive enough, important enough, and on and on. We can find ourselves doing this to others too. In facing rejection or conflict we may answer questions of hurt with “They are not _________ enough.” Blame, judgment, & shame are often the places we get stuck when we return to these beliefs to fill gaps in stories again and again.

Rumbling:

Throughout Rising Strong, Brené challenges us to “rumble” or question honestly the stories we tell ourselves. She asks us, though it can feel scary, to stay with the feeling in the moment of struggle rather than jump to a quick conclusion.

I believe what Brené offers us, by way of describing her own experiences of “rumbling with story” is a picture of what it can look like to live with boundaries, integrity, and compassion intentionally. She asks us to “lean in” to the difficult work of balancing emotion with reality-testing and leading a courageous life in the small interactions, choices, and reflections each day.

Learn more about Brené and her books, including Rising Strong, here.

Brown, Brené (2015). Rising Strong. Penguin Random House: New York, New York.

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Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.