Hate crimes are punished more severely in our society based on the understanding that they affect more than just the immediate victims of the crime. The attack and its effects on the dignity, worth, and personhood of the primary victim spread to other people who share the characteristics that prompted the attack. Whether it is a nightclub shooting, yet another murder of a transwoman, the epidemic killing of black men and boys by police, the passage of discriminatory policies and laws that limit civil rights, or a televised protest of hatred and ensuing violence - each of these events that may happen geographically far from home, they don't feel far away. They are felt in the core of people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants and women everywhere. That is the intent of actions like this. To frighten entire groups of people. To control them. To silence them. To say, "you are not worthy of dignity and respect." This expands the victimhood of these events to entire minority groups.
So, if you are a victim of such an event, it is important to know that you have experienced a trauma.
When we experience trauma, events are happening and we are attempting to take in information that cannot be assimilated into our understanding of how the world works. Our minds, our worldviews, and even our concepts of our very selves cannot accommodate this new information. Our fear responses get (and stay) dialed all the way up. We (rightfully) don't feel safe. Very foundational beliefs that our lives indeed depend on are shaken and even split apart.
In response to this, it is a very human response to want to, as quickly as possible, regain a sense of safety and re-establish meaning. We want to make the world make sense again. Sometimes this can lead us to whitewash the truth, to minimize what has happened, to spread the blame around to "all sides." I have even said to myself and others that "this is just a small group of people who feel this way." We ask ourselves questions about "how could people do this?" and we answer by saying things like it's a learned behavior within a small community, or it's misplaced fear and anger. This quest to understand is understandable - we need things to make sense. But I don't want to make sense of terror and hate. I don't want to live in a world where it is understandable. This is the nature of traumatic events - they're traumatic because they should. not. happen. Let's not find ways to help our minds accommodate this. This is not ok. Let us work towards the hope that events such as these would not happen. But when trauma does strike, trauma should be disruptive, not normalized.
There is a place where we do need to seek to re-create and nourish meaning, and that is in our own and each others' sense of self, our sense of love and connection with one another, and each person on earth's sense of dignity and worth as a human being. This can look different for each person, and at different times. To some, or today, it may look like constructive rest. To others, or tomorrow, it may mean taking political action by donating money or physically showing up for restorative causes. Take in current events and remain aware and engaged, and please also take breaks from the bombardment of traumatic images and harmful energy. Find positive, supportive sources for news and information. Don't let hate and violence be the only messages you are taking in. Please rest when you need to. Cry and shout when you need to. Reach out for support. And if you are not feeling the need to rest, shout, cry, or reach out, then please turn to your neighbor that does and be of service.
A note to myself, and other white people: When I was asked to do an interview on this topic for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, I very nearly did not accept the interview. I was afraid that I might say the wrong thing. I was afraid to jump in to a conversation about race so publicly. When I recently had a conversation with other white clinicians about Charlottesville and about race, it was supremely uncomfortable for everyone involved. Getting uncomfortable is for-sure a price we have to pay if we want to see a country without racism, and we are going to be sitting (and hopefully standing and marching) in that discomfort for a while. It is indeed important for us, too, to practice good self-care, and rest when we need to. But I ask you, and challenge myself, to firstly consider two things. 1: Am I more tired than the people of color who have been fighting this battle longer and harder and with greater consequence than I have? and 2: Is it really just resting, or am I seeking to hide or to quit? When we take a break from this conversation, for us it can truly be a break. When our brothers, sisters, and siblings of color take a break, they get no respite from feeling the effects of what is being done to them. Surely, we will make mistakes. Surely, we will quite probably screw up in big ways every now and then. And being called out won't feel good. I say as much to myself as I do to you: please, do it anyway. Racism and division and hatred and injustice are damaging to us all.
For people of color looking for a safe space to heal, and anyone looking to support healing spaces, please check out the work of:
If you would like to learn more and get involved, please check out:
My girlfriend says I drink too much. I feel so angry all the time, and I'm snapping at the people I love. I'm so stressed and overwhelmed, and I think I'm just doing it to myself, but I can't seem to stop. I stopped using drugs, but my life doesn't feel any better; I'm still sad all the time. I'm 35 and I can't believe I don't know how to handle this. I don't like anything in my life and I don't know how I got here. My anxiety is keeping me from being able to do my job. I can't seem to stay clean for longer than a year.
Clients come to counseling for a vast variety of reasons, but it generally boils down to "I'm not happy with this aspect of myself, and I can't seem to change it on my own." Part of the beginning of therapy is to identify the goals - the things we hope to change by engaging in this work. A lot of time we make that feel like taking a magnifying glass (or a giant-ass spotlight) to our flaws.
And then progress starts to happen, and maybe we meet our original goals - we stop drinking, we get our angry outbursts under control, we learn skills to cope with our anxiety. And, by some horrible whack-a-mole magic, we can see more problems!! When we are on a path of personal and spiritual growth, it's a "journey, not a destination" because there is no damn destination. There is no finish line to this deeper work! There will always be more room to grow. This is why it is crucial for those on this path to regularly check in on your progress, and your strengths. On a spiritual path or a path of personal growth, we have kind of signed up to look for our darkness. The world tells us to hide it away, shove it down, keep it out of sight, in the closet, repressed and unacknowledged. But for those of us who want a deeper experience of joy and love and light, we know that means we have to allow the darkness to pass through us on its way out. We heard this disclaimer, and we signed up anyway.
Once we're on the path, it can become easier to spot our issues. Like a crazed weed-pulling gardener, sometimes we don't know when to stop and rest. When we keep going after every weed we see without rest, we hurt ourselves. It is vital to our well-being that we stand up, step back, and survey the field. See the progress we've made in clearing the weeds. See and smell the flowers growing in our garden. Feel the sunshine on our faces and the mud between our toes. Taste the bounty of the harvest.
One of my favorite interfaith teachings (because Truth is Truth is Truth is Truth) is that we are already whole. There is already a light shining within us. We are already forgiven. We are already divine. However you want to phrase it - we are at our core good, and beautiful, and light, and love. And because of the world, and our culture, and the negativity-biased wiring of our brains, and the harmful choices of others, and our egos, and our own unwise choices, that goodness gets obstructed. And we think that we are dark, bad, sinful, wrong, depressed, ugly. We are none of those things. There may be some of those things within us, and that's the work! To remove the obstacles that block our light. To clear away the bullshit that hides our beauty from the world, and sometimes even from ourselves.
There is plenty that we all can do to be better, to shine brighter. But there is nothing that we have to do in order to be worthy. We are already ok. You are already light. You are already love. You are already beauty. You are already joy. You may have some work to do in clearing away the cobwebs so that you can see it, but You. Are. Already. Ok.
Tap into your light today. Sit quietly. Breathe deeply. When thoughts come, just let them pass without judgment. Your brain thinks, and that's ok. Ask to notice the light within you. Ask where it lives in your body. Try to visualize that light. Send your breath and your energy to that light, and watch it grow as you give it access to air. As you bear witness to your own light, see how it gets brighter and bigger. Continue this exercise until the light grows to fill the external boundaries of your body. And then beyond. Imagine this light shining out of you, so that you can feel it on your skin. Imagine that others can see this light, and that when they do, they more readily notice their own light within themselves.
If it is hard for you to visualize your own light, practice first visualizing the light of a beloved teacher, guru, or the God of your understanding. Use this light as your own until you can start to believe in the light within your own heart.
Join Tosha Bailey of The Mix EduKitchen and Fitness and I as we discuss entrepreneurial journeys, showing up authentically in life and at work, and improving our relationships with our bodies! Then stick around and check out previous episodes from Be Well ATL - Season 1.
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! :)
Join us as we chat with Josh Jarmin, owner and fitness expert at Blueprint Fitness, about fitness (duh) and superheroes.
Got a fitness-related new years' resolution? Check out Blueprint Fitness's January Transformation Challenge! For 6 weeks, get a jump start on building a foundation of behaviors that will lead to a healthier, happier you. Josh is offering a $400 value for only $147. Remember, you're way more likely to take action towards your goals if you do even a small action right now. So, click the link, email Josh, or get in your car and drive straight to Blueprint! :)
Got some other resolution, goal, or challenge and could use some help navigating a course to get you there? Align Wellness Solutions is offering two New Year coaching packages: 6 sessions over 2 months for $750 (regularly $900) or 10 sessions over 3 months for $1200 (regularly $1500). This offer is for new clients only, and is only available through Jan 31! You can read more about the services we offer at our website, or email us to sign up. If you really want to make a change, hack your brain's motivation center and take a small action right now!
Free! Ideal You Visualization - to achieve our goals, it can be so helpful to picture ourselves already there, and to really feel what that feels like. This guided meditation will help you do just that! Getting to know our ideal selves (who already exists inside of us, btw!) helps us to make decisions that can be difficult without that perspective. Now we can ask, what would Ideal Me do? For a free download of this guided meditation, join our mailing list below!