Freedom. Independence. Liberation. Man, that's a good feeling! But maybe one that we don't feel that often. There are so many demands, expectations, and other external forces pulling us in directions that may not match up with the way we want to go. Sometimes instead of feeling free, we feel trapped, squooshed, fearful, or stuck. Just putting myself into that space while brainstorming those descriptive emotions conjured up some serious anxiety in my back, neck, and shoulders! It did not feel good, y'all! Freedom feels so much better; so how do we get there?
I like to think of freedom as having two main components, the first of which is curiosity. By this, I mean asking ourselves the question, "I wonder what this is like?" In each new moment, in each new experience, even in the same-old-same-old experiences - to approach it with a beginner's mind, a child-like wonder, a scientist's eye. I wonder what this is like?
In Buddhism, they have a handy saying: "Right now, it's like this," embracing both acceptance and impermanence. A friend recently gave this age-old saying a fantastic update: "Right now, that's what's up." Equally true, more delightful to say, and maybe a little catchier too.
See my previous blog for more about this idea of meeting ourselves where we are. Right now, that's what's up.
Willing to give it a try? Practice meeting each moment with curiosity and acceptance, and see if your feelings of freedom don't multiply this week!
Netflix and chill - but literally. In your PJs, on the couch, binge-watching a full season of the latest release. Sometimes that's ok. Occasionally, I've even been known to assign it to some of my clients. But when immobility becomes a habit, when we feel unmotivated on most days, or so overwhelmed by tasks or options that we feel paralyzed, when we are stuck in deep, thick mud like that, when we have been still for so long that it seems our bodies have forgotten how to start moving again, then we have fallen victim to inertia.
When we are stuck in a pattern, whether a pattern of movement or a pattern of stagnancy, it can feel impossible to shift. Sometimes it seems that no matter what we try, we can't seem to relax, or to get going. Meditation is a wonderful tool for relaxation and rejuvenation for someone who is on the way to burnout, but have you ever skidded onto a cushion from a day of multi-tasking and back to back activity and tried to sit quietly and focus on your breathing? And exercise is a great way to get your energy moving, but have you ever tried to muster the will power mid-OITNB-binge?
Before I talk about the answer, I want to talk about the NOT-the-answer. The answer is not to yell at ourselves about the difference between where we are and where we wish we were. The answer is not in shaming, bullying, name-calling, comparing, or otherwise beating ourselves into a different shape. Not only are these things harmful to us on a very deep level, they don't really work that well.
Try it this week! See if giving yourself a little grace, and honoring your current energy state first instead of expecting yourself to shift to the opposite so abruptly works better and feels better to you. Let me know in the comments!
Entrepreneurs. Creators. Doers. Magic Makers. Manifesters. Movers. Shakers. Hustlers?
I was with you, and then "hustling." I think of myself as a recovering Type A. I'm organized and driven. I make plans, execute, and get results. Calls, meetings, proposals, presentations. Hustling. What exactly are we celebrating? If it's believing in ourselves and in our dreams enough to back them up with positive, continuous action and manifest these amazing lives and this amazing world that we envision and plot and plan about so persistently? Yes, I'm all in with that. But sometimes I think we are celebrating something different.
Busyness. Chaos. Stress. Running. Rushing. Always thinking of the next thing and never really here for the now thing. Hustling. I'm not here for this. This is the part I'm working so hard to recover from. This is not the kind of life I want to live. This is not success. And, here comes a big one: this is not required by success.
I once worked for a non-profit organization who brought me on to turn what had been operating as a recovery residence into a treatment program. This was a great and noble goal, but one that would require raising more money, hiring more highly trained staff, meeting more regulatory demands, and changing the "way we've always done things." And really, the organization wasn't on board with any of that. We accomplished our goal, but not without constantly butting heads with my bosses, our funders, and volunteers. We kept pressing on because it was such a worthy goal, but it was unsustainable in such a system - one that ultimately had different goals. In the end, I gained one of the most valuable lessons in my life: sometimes obstacles are not here to be overcome. Sometimes they are signs that you're on the wrong path. Sometimes its better to find the people who already have the same vision, who are already working towards the same goals. Sometimes it just doesn't have to be so hard.
Herein lies my issue with this whole glorification of "hustling." Hustling sometimes teaches us to keep fighting no matter what. To wear ourselves out in the pursuit of "success." To sacrifice peace today for tomorrow. To approach everything with such a forceful attack. Maybe we could be gentler with ourselves. Maybe we could allow ourselves the grace of peace today and tomorrow. Yes, there will be bumps and obstacles along the way that are meant to be overcome. But when we hit wall after wall after wall - perhaps we are needing to learn a little more deeply that we are worthy and deserving of a life of abundance and ease. Yes, we have to work for success. And yes, the work is hard. But maybe just not that hard.
Find the moving current. Step into it. Hustle and flow. Hard work and grace. Abundance and ease.
Void. Nothing. Numb. Missing. Ache. Bored. Lonely.
These are feelings that we often describe along with the word "empty." We are often fearful of emptiness. It's a thing that most of us would say we don't wish to experience.
In one of my first Buddhist meditation experiences, they were talking about the experience of non-self, as if this was the ultimate goal of spirituality and meditation. Immediately, me: "uhhh, not what I signed up for, y'all." I'm here for being more in touch with myself. I'm here for finding out who I am at my innermost, not for whatever non-existence craziness y'all are talking about! I'm here for fulfillment. Definitely not emptiness.
I think that we think of emptiness as empty of happiness, of joy, of love. But I'm not sure we can ever be empty of those things. When I experience emptiness, it's empty of the exhausting swarm of thoughts, empty of to-dos, empty of shoulds and why-did-yous, empty of anxiety, empty of shame, empty of ego, of striving, of judgment. And into that emptiness, like air into empty lungs, floods silence and peace. Divinity, if you like. A different kind of energy.
Then exhaling again fully, and noticing where in the body you most feel the sensation of emptiness. Breathe deeply into that space, imagining that the feeling of emptiness would grow and expand as you inhale and exhale, emptying more and more space inside of you. Continuing to breathe slowly and deeply, eventually you clear out the whole space occupied by your body - you are embodying this feeling of emptiness. Allow the emptiness to flood your mind as well. Noticing the space and silence between your thoughts, and then allowing that space to grow. Sit silently, noticing your experience of emptiness.
I would love to hear from you! Share your experience in the comments, or email me!
For another perspective on emptiness, check out my discussion with Brett Bagley of Purple Treatment Center and Sober Adventures in Be Well ATL podcast episode Hollow Bones.
Being seen. Being known. This, so much, this is the unmet need at the core of many of our problems today. Feeling seen, heard, known, and held is a large part of what is so healing about relationships - whether they are therapeutic relationships between a counselor and client, a doctor and patient, friendships, family relationships, love, or simply strangers sharing a rare and passing intimate, vulnerable, supportive moment. When we feel seen, there is healing in that space.
What if we take that same concept and apply it inside of ourselves? So often when uncomfortable feelings show up, we close our eyes to them, push them aside, try to numb them, run from them, smash them back into whatever box-from-hell they came from, or otherwise avoid them. But what if instead, we just simply allowed them to be seen? What if we tried to hear them out? To get to know them a little bit?
Have you ever had a really crappy day, called up your person, and then they tried to fix everything? Or a caring someone asks how you are, and you break the "I'm fine" mold and say that you're a little anxious about a big meeting coming up, and they offer you all sorts of unsolicited advice - all of which you've already tried or it just straight up doesn't apply to your situation? Sometimes even when caring and well-intentioned people try to "fix" our problems, it can feel like another way we are being pushed aside, not seen, not held - just checked off of some list and left behind.
Don't we do that to our feelings too? Rush to fix anything that doesn't feel good? (My hand's definitely in the air on this one!) In my own life, and in my work with clients, sometimes we work really hard and we end up digging up a new "core belief." A new discovery of what's underneath the things that keep tripping us up, holding us back, sending us off-course. It's exciting and feels like a break through! And then... "Ok, what's next?" How do we fix it? How do I get rid of it? What exactly do we do with the damn thing?!
What if we just look at it?
I mean, what if that's the answer y'all? Did your shoulders just soften? Because mine did. Maybe the answer is not more striving, more work. Maybe it's just to see it. To hear it. To hold it. To know it. Let's practice that, and just see what happens.
I took a training recently on EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It's an admittedly kinda funky, but highly researched and incredibly effective treatment for trauma, and for un-sticking your stuck core beliefs. Here was one of my favorite nuggets: Negative thoughts and beliefs are symptoms of the problem, not the problem. Through an EMDR lens, the problem is old traumas that weren't sufficiently processed by the brain. So it goes in, and processes the shit out of them. For me, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy so often ends with finding the core belief. EMDR lets us pick up from there and stop with the striving. Because the way that it processes them is not with your expert-problem-solving brain. Actually, let-me-fix-it-no-really-I'm-so-great-at-fixing-things you needs to sit back and chill for EMDR to really work its magic. Our brain and our bodies have an intuitive wisdom that body-focused treatments and practices tap into in amazing ways. EMDR gives us another option outside of the oh-so-human attempt to fix the mind with the mind. The good news is that our brains already know how to heal themselves, and they want to! I have such a crush on the work of Matthew Sanford (you should check him out) - he was in a car accident at age 13 where his dad and sister were killed, and his spine was shattered, among other serious injuries. He is now a yoga instructor and works within the realms of from trauma, mind-body connections, and asking us to rethink healing, ability, and embodiment. He talks in his book in such a beautiful way that our body is always "moving towards living, for as long as it possibly can." Humans are amazing and we naturally move towards survival and wholeness. We just have to get that manager-in-our-mind out of the way.
Sound familiar? So much of the theories and concepts behind EMDR are right up my yoga and meditation alley. Connecting to the body. Really listening to what it has to say. Creating a space for healing to naturally occur. Practicing a radically-accepting awareness of what is. And just being with whatever comes up. Seeing it. Hearing it out. Holding space for it to be, without pushing it, resisting it, hating it, or judging it. Letting it be known. You can try it right now. Get quiet. Focus on your breath, breathing deep, full, delicious belly breaths in and out through your nose. When your attention wanders, just notice it, and bring it back to your breath. Do this for a few moments, and then place your right palm on your belly, and your left hand on your heart. Continue to breathe deeply, and just notice whatever is there. With so much love and zero judgment, what do you feel in your body? Tension? Sensations? You can scan your physical body, as well as your emotional body. Thoughts? Energies? As you notice what's there, give each sensation your full attention, and send your breath there, as if your breath was carrying loving awareness. Notice what happens. No judging. No fixing. No striving. No doing. Just noticing. Just being. Just seeing.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to comment on my blog or social media, or email me!
You can find out more about EMDR here: http://www.emdr.com/frequent-questions/ and http://www.emdria.org/?120. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment, click here or learn more about my counseling services here.
I also provide yoga and meditation instruction. If you enjoyed the exercise above, I encourage you to check out the book First Breath, Last Breath, by Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and especially her Healing Breath of Noticing, from which the above exercise was adapted. You can purchase this book at Kashi Atlanta when you come for any of my public yoga classes, or online.
Want more Matthew Sanford? Of course you do.
New cards are here! I changed my signature blue background color to this deep red in celebration of a big change - starting in April, I will be committed to Align Wellness Solutions as my *only* full-time gig! Since I first felt the rumblings of Align Wellness in my guts, it has taken a lot of envisioning, working, planning, prepping, resting, and waiting on the next rock to rise up from the sometimes-scary-stream of entrepreneurship. From working up the courage to leave Foundations and step out to my part-time startup consultant gig with Fresh Start Recovery Center, to now leaving even that safe-haven harbor, this has been an amazing journey, and one that I did not expect. There is a microscopic woman who runs around my brain pressing the PANIC! button pretty often, but so far the rest of me doesn't react to her. This, of course, freaks her out even more. But she is tiny. And manageable. It is consistently amazing to me how when I put out positive energy into the universe, when I can act from a place of confidence and abundance and not act out the fearful thoughts that may try to creep in, when I have faith in this path, the universe ALWAYS meets that energy with results. I am so grateful.
Beginning April 1st, I will be expanding my hours from two and a half days a week to full time! I will be adding another office location to explore this city from my Align Wellness perch, and to see where it wants to grow. I am, of course, seeking new clients - for counseling, coaching, and yoga/meditation instruction. I am also seeking out speaking and training opportunities, especially ones that are in one of my passion-zones: addiction and recovery, LGBTQ issues, life after (huge) life change, clinician self-care, vision-casting and intention-setting work for individuals or organizations, employee engagement and culture-building.
This red color is the color of Muladara, the first chakra, or energy center, in our bodies. I often tell my clients that it doesn't matter if you think of chakras as literal places in your body or in a metaphorical sense. This root chakra is the energy center of safety, of physically taking up space in the world, where we focus on being enough and having enough. As Align Wellness Solutions starts out with all of my time and energy invested here, I am excited to watch it grow through this establishing energy, to grow roots deeply in Atlanta and spread out across the Metro area and beyond. I hope to walk with you along this path. Thank you for your support - this is going to be amazing!
If you are a fellow entrepreneur, clinician, yogi, or holistic health provider in the Atlanta area - please reach out! I love connecting with like-minded folks. I host a #goalssquad (instead of #squadgoals) get-together every 2-3 months. Our networking is super casual (read: we hang out), but the connections made are meaningful and collaborative. I also host the podcast Be Well ATL, where I interview (read: hang out) with wellness practitioners in Atlanta with the goal of expanding wellness experiences for our listeners, and also of sharing our communities of supporters collectively.
If you would like to support me in my work:
- You can refer a client to me for counseling, coaching, yoga, or meditation instruction (most clients end up getting some combo of all of the above). "My people" tend to be folks in recovery or trying to get there, LGBTQ folks, women (I like dudes, too, but ladies especially seem to dig me) after divorce or career change, spiritual seekers - basically anyone who is kind of asking themselves who am I really, what do I want, and how the fuck did I get *here*?! I work really well with people who haven't liked therapy in the past. Anxiety-sufferers and people who are so stressed out that their bodies stopped telling them when they're stressed - those are definitely my people. And folks who feel like they've lost their mojo and can't quite shake feeling sad, unmotivated, tired and hopelessness is either creeping in, or set up residence long ago - you're my people too.
- You can connect me with a company or organization in need of some training in the areas I specialize in. I enjoy and am good at any kind of vision-casting or goal-setting, culture building, employee engagement, LGBTQ inclusivity, and I especially love to do employee wellness stuff! Let me have fun with your staff. :) If you have a group of therapists, even better! LGBTQ 101, Trans-specific trainings, Addiction and Recovery issues (including medication-assisted treatment), yoga and meditation, the mind-body connection, and SELF-CARE!! I will save my rampage about the importance of clinician self-care for a different blog on a different day.
- If you have a blog or newsletter, I'd love to write a guest feature that's specific to the needs of your audience!
- You can join my mailing list, share my blog, check out Be Well ATL, share Be Well ATL, etc.
- Send good vibes! :)
A new year is upon us! It's the time of year where everyone is thinking about goals for 2017. Let me say it now - goals are great. I make a big long list every year (I call them intentions, though, and require that they carry no pressure). Goals, intentions, resolutions, whatever we like to call them - they propel us to better versions of ourselves. As a therapist, everyone I work with is engaged in and committed to a path of personal growth in some degree and fashion. This is a wonderful and beautiful work, and one I feel so honored and priveleged to be a part of. But sometimes there is an uglier side to personal growth, and I don't just mean the requisite pain we have to walk through to get there! Sometimes we can use our goals as weapons. We take the gap between where we are and where we would like to be and submit it as evidence of all the ways that we don't measure up because we aren't _____ enough. So, I encourage you to make your goals/intentions/resolutions -- AND:
Focus on how far you've come. You have accomplished a lot in 2016. Some great things have happened, and through the painful circumstances, some powerful lessons learned. Write it down. Celebrate everything. Become aware. Mindfully notice your growth. See the changes in your life that you have manifested with your hard work! Maybe share the list with someone. (Share it here if you want!) Maybe mark it with ritual in some way. But definitely write it down.
Here are some other suggestions for celebrating the New Year - yes, just another day, but an opportunity to honor the good from 2016, to release the things we don't want to carry with us any longer, and to look forward and imagine all that's possible for 2017.
Write down your 2016 accomplishments.
Write down the things you want to leave behind in 2016. Burn them. Shed them. Send them down the river, into the air. Release them into the wild.
Write a list of intentions for 2017 - include changes you want to make, but also include some things just for fun! Infuse as much self-care into this list as you can!
Clean up and get organized before the new year so you can start 2017 feeling really fresh.
Make a vision board for 2017 - sometimes visual information can impact us more powerfully than written words. Make a collage, draw it, paint it.
Choose a word or phrase to sum up your goal for 2017. Some of my recent "mantras": Abundance and Ease. Rest. Wait. Make space. Write it everywhere. Say it to yourself in the mornings before you get out of bed, and when you are stressed, breathe deeply and repeat it as a mantra.
Visualize your ideal self. Click below for a my-new-years-gift-to-you guided meditation downlead that may help!
Happy New Year!!
I love hard things. The Type-A, striving part of me loves hard things because I love blowing past my limits - feeling stronger than I thought, faster than I thought, smarter than I thought. But that's never good in the long run. The kinder, gentler part of me loves hard things because they show me that there are some things that I, in fact, can't do, and they bring up all of the discomfort that I'm avoiding when I'm too busy striving. And then I get the opportunity to get more comfortable with that discomfort, so that maybe I can stop striving so much. This was the beginnings of my intensifying love affair with yoga (starting with Bikram, of course). I was powerfully confronted by the fact that no matter how much I wanted to press on despite being on the verge of passing out and/or throwing up, I physically could not. I laid on my mat for a good 15 minutes before finally surrendering and walking out of the way-too-hot-for-me-in-that-moment room. when the cold air hit my face, I cried - the good kind. Feeling so much gratitude for finally practicing self-care over striving. The growth felt good, even though it was uncomfortable. I knew that yoga was my new BFF. These days, my kinder, gentler self wins more often.
This is a link to the first in a 5-part series by Jason Crandell on one of my favorite hard things: Chataranga.
What can you learn about yourself, your limits, and your relationship to your self when confronted by those limits?
Me: I wonder how to do a podcast?
Also me: *doing a podcast*
You guys. Yesterday Be Well ATL was just an idea. Granted, it was an idea with a purchased domain (can we all rave about the great name and how I can't believe it hadn't been snagged before?!), a microphone, downloaded free audacity software, and a scheduled guest, but it was still just an idea. Then, me and my friend and colleague, the amazing Nzinga Harrison, sat down and recorded a loosely-mission-driven conversation, and now it EXISTS. It's an actual thing that is real now. And before the domain, the schedule, the mission, and the supplies were real things, they were just ideas too. Isn't it amazing, y'all? This is how the world works. We hold the power to have ideas, and then *poof*! They're HERE. (Dislaimer: *poof* = action steps). They're THINGS THAT EXIST and OTHER PEOPLE CAN PERCEIVE THEM. I don't think I'm being overly excited here. Let's allow ourselves to be amazed at our own creative power. We. Can. Make. Anything. (I'll pause for you to take a moment to oooh and ahhh in awe and wonderment).
And let's also talk about the things that almost prevented this podcast from happening. (and also almost prevented me from doing yoga teacher training and moving to Atlanta and applying for big jobs and asking for more money and so on and so on...) Or, at least the chief-among-them culprit. This guy: "who am I to host a wellness podcast?" "who am I to interview experts?" "who am I to put myself in some kind of leadership role in this community of amazing people?" Sound familiar? As I share all of my "who the hell am I?" thoughts with friends, they all have that voice too. (whew!) Well, let's answer the question. Who am I? I'm a therapist. A leader in my industry. (true statement, still hard to say). I'm the founder of a nonprofit. I'm a business owner. I'm a yoga teacher. (new one, so also uncomfortable to claim!) I am a wellness-enthusiast. I have some qualifications, sure. But I don't have any more special knowledge, skills, or abilities than any of my guests, nor than any of my listeners! By hosting a podcast, I am laying no claim to any expertise or mastery that is any more than anyone else. Or any less. We are all just people, sharing what we know and how we've grown in the hopes that it's helpful to other people. And really, the thing I have in common with all of the other podcast hosts out there: I decided to do it and I did it. And the only difference between that thing that you've been wanting to be, and maybe even that you've been afraid to want to be... the only difference between you and that person is that you haven't decided to do it and done it yet. So, I'm not a leader in the Atlanta community of wellness professionals. Except that I had an idea to create something that might be of benefit to others, and I chose to ignore that scary voice telling me all of the reasons I shouldn't/can't/don't deserve to do it, and I am doing it anyway. Will you do it, too? That thing you want to do but don't think you've "earned the right"? I hope you will. It's kind of great out here - in a chaotic, unstructured, terrifying but "good-terrifying" (whatever the hell that means) kind of way.
Episodes are scheduled to launch bi-weekly beginning in October. Head over to http://www.bewellatl.com to check it out. Details to come on how to subscribe to the podcast on the website and in your podcast app! What?! That feels fancy! :)