Breathe

With your feet flat on the floor, back straight, and in a comfortable sitting position, take 10 deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth.  Relax your shoulders as you do this. Close your eyes if you’d like.  Notice what it feels like to take each breath, letting your lungs expand and release. Give yourself this precious time. Resist the urge to rush.

After ten deep breaths, how do you feel? Perhaps more calm?  Hopefully you feel more grounded as well. Occasionally I invite clients to bring attention to their breath in session when emotions are heavy. I also strongly encourage deep breathing outside of session.

In the past several years practicing as a counselor, I have noticed an increase of anxiety presenting as a major concern for new clients. I wonder how much of this is related to an ever-growing culture of instantaneity and exposure. Recently I came across an article entitled “Wait a Minute” by Jonathan Rach in The Atlantic.  He proposes that it has become normalized to respond instantly via social media, email, texts, etc.  If we see something we don’t like, we can quickly shoot out an angry email or bear our soul on twitter. It may feel good in the short-term to vent such feelings but result in negative consequences, only creating greater anxiety. In this digital age, most of us are connected 24/7 to more and more people and greater amounts of information. Others have constant access to us.  Many feel pressure to be “on-call” at all times.  How healthy is this really?

Rach also references psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, believes humans have two cognitive systems: System 1 and System 2.

“System 1 is intuitive, automatic, and impulsive. It makes snap judgments about dangers as predators or opportunities such as food, and it delivers them to our awareness without conscious thought. It can also be wrong. It is biased and emotional. It overreacts and under-reacts. System 2, by contrast, is slower and involves wearying cognitive labor. It gathers facts, consults evidence, weighs arguments, and makes reasoned judgments. It protects us from the errors and impulsivity of System 1.” (Rach).

We need System 1 and System 2 in order to process events.  If we attach truth only to the data collected by emotions, we can find ourselves controlled by feelings.  Anxiety flourishes in the midst of such chaos. Suddenly we find ourselves plummeting down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing, comparing, and blaming.  Self-doubt also creeps in.

Stress is normal day-to-day.  So is anger, fear, and hurt.  Honoring such emotions by processing them in a meaningful, reflective way is healing.  Taking time to breathe is an act of self-compassion. It is intentionally hitting the pause button on all the noise. Pausing and breathing also invites System 2 into the space.  The mind requires a break, and with busy lives we can forget to catch our breaths.  Establishing boundaries with your time, giving yourself breaks, and taking time to breathe are tools to creating balance and truly loving yourself better.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Three Keys to Listening Well

Listening is loving. It is food for the soul and nourishment for relationships. Being heard and understood deeply has a powerful effect, enabling us to feel safe, cared for, loved, and empowered. However, listening well can be difficult.  This is becoming even more of a challenge in today’s society where a million distractions lay at our fingertips. Below are three keys to listening well and improving the way we connect with others.

  1. Presence

“When people have been with me in the moment of my pain, I have little remembered what they have said. It is their presence I recall. The gift of presence is not that it takes away the pain, but that it enables one to bear it.” – Stephen Howard, The Heart and Soul of the Therapist

To be present with another human means to offer my full attention. By setting aside other distractions, I can offer you the gift of thoughtful focus on you, your words and your emotions.  There is a remarkable difference between true presence and distracted listening. For instance, most of us have been guilty of trying to squeeze in a text while listening to a friend. Perhaps you’ve been on the opposite end of this as well and have felt the sting of rejection when you realize your words are falling on deaf ears.  Being human means we make mistakes.  A part of improving how we listen means to take note of what often distracts us and to set aside specific time to intentionally be present with loved ones.

2. Empathy

“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

To listen well involves empathy, or the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of another.  Practicing empathy via listening means that rather than offer solutions or try and “fix”, silence and patience is instead offered.  In the precious space of silence, my friend is allowed to give name to her pain, confusion, or sadness. She has a chance to be heard and to tell her story. Now, rather than burden of hidden shame or pain, she feels joined and a bit less alone in her experience.

3. Boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Boundaries are critical towards listening well because they enable individuals to offer presence & empathy. Practicing presence and empathy demands emotional energy.  Being human means we have limits to our capacity to give these resources.  Setting boundaries means we are in tune with how much we have to give and say yes when we feel capable and no when we do not.  The same people who often thrive in the areas of listening and compassion struggle to set boundaries because they want to give too much.  As Brené Brown mentions above, it is important that we care for and love ourselves enough by resisting the urge to merely please others and instead give when we feel truly able.

Presence, Empathy, and Boundaries set the tone for meaningful interactions.  By practicing these tenants, our relationships are given depth and life.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Loving Your Resilient Mind: On Suffering & Endurance

Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir

Resilience: the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress —the American Psychological Association’s definition

After the loss of my dear father, a close friend who knows grief deeply said to me, “You will be amazed at how the brain finds a way to cope with the most unimaginable things.” In a state of shock, I couldn’t yet digest his words. I was floating above the surface of reality. Looking back, my mind was already at work just like he said. Periods of floating above the surface or “feeling numb” were helping me to survive the first few days of a tragic loss. Since that time, I have come to appreciate how truly resilient the mind is.

The human brain is brilliant. It knows what it is doing. You could compare the mind to the electrical system in a house. There may be times when the circuit breaker “trips”. This circuit is overloaded with too much electricity flowing though the system. The breaker shuts down all outlets to protect the home and avoid a fire. The brain can do a similar thing. When reality is “too much” and the body or heart is facing immense pain, the mind will shut off emotions so you can survive. The feelings do not disappear but are kept at bay. The emotions will return in doses or “waves.” These waves of sadness, grief, anger, and pain can be powerful but they do not last indefinitely. The water subsides and you can catch your breath. Over time, you begin learning the waters, able to better anticipate oncoming waves. You learn it’s possible to endure these waves, riding them back to shore. As time passes, the currents continue but you may find that the waves grow farther apart.

This process is a part of beginning to live a new reality. Change is difficult. Change caused by tragic circumstances is uniquely hard. The resilient brain you are gifted with knows this intrinsically. It recognizes a need to float above the emotion as well as a need to dive back in and feel. Memories are the brain’s way of keeping you connected to precious and significant people and experiences in life. Memories and grief are interconnected. Grieving, while painful, is in essence loving and honoring the truth. Those we love are stamped upon our hearts, and through the release of tears we visit with them.  The mixture of feelings, of joy as well as pain, suffering as well as love, combine to form the tapestry of the human soul.

Numb the dark and you numb the light.”- Brene Brown

So, what does it mean to be resilient? The APA definition above says to “adapt well”. I believe that adapting well requires greater self-kindness and a deeper respect than we often give to our beautiful minds and hearts. We can do hard things. Yet, many people possess an inner critic who is harsh. This internal critic judges, compares, and doubts one’s ability to move forward. Adapting well means offering ourselves greater love and patience in the midst of the storms as well as the calm. It also means taking each day a day at a time while being open to what we can do and what we need in order to do it.

To all those in the midst of suffering, wishing you strength and love through the difficult journey.

Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her counseling practice here.

Making Space for Grief

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Everyone will know seasons of loss and grief. Some of these endings we can see approaching months or years ahead of time. A person we love receives a frightening diagnosis. A beloved family member or friend ages into their late years. With time we try to brace ourselves for such a death, riding the roller coaster of emotions as we attempt to gradually accept. Yet, nothing can completely prepare us for the hole this person will leave.

Other times, death is a shock. Unexpected and devastating, we could never imagine having to say goodbye so soon to someone we hold dear. Desperately, we try to keep our heads above the waters as confusion, anger, and sadness take hold.

Grieving the loss of someone we love is a process with no clear map. Just as each relationship is unique, each loss is unique. Our hearts, minds, and bodies need space to grieve. Often, individuals fear getting close to these deep places in oneself. Many people come from families where tears were uncommon and emotions were rarely shared. Death is not a topic openly discussed in our current culture either. For instance, most work places offer a mere three bereavement days for employees. This is quite different from previous times in history when mourning traditions involved weeks of grieving as a community together in and around the deceased’s family’s home. In reality, grieving continues long past the time when the calls, texts, casseroles, and cards stop coming. It is therefore common to feel alone in your experience.

Honoring the multitude of feelings we may experience often means resisting the message to “pull myself together”. Making space for tears means listening to our hearts and bodies carefully and giving ourselves what we need. Needing coffee and a hug with a friend, tears in the shower, walks with your dog, time in nature, journaling, music, time alone, time with others, a funny movie, and even diving into work or something creative are all examples of needs you may have. You may also need to reach out for support from a grief group or therapist to process the pain. The needs change from day to day and moment to moment. Rather than compare your grief experience to that of others, it is important to be compassionate to yourself and hold respect for your own journey. It will not look exactly like anyone else’s.

As Irving says in the quote above, tears are sacred. Your grief is sacred as well. It is a reflection of the deep meaning this person had in your life and you in theirs. If you believe that counseling is a route you would like to consider in your own process, please feel free to contact any of the therapists here at Foundation Counseling. We wish those in the midst of such a loss, strength and courage along the way.

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Thank you for reading. Lydia dedicates this post to her dear father. Learn more about Lydia and her counseling practice here.

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:

image

“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.