Category Archives: Emotional Health
The mind is such a powerful thing. Perception, or how one views the world and themselves, shapes our sense of reality, and oftentimes, our sense of reality is different from another’s sense of reality. Sure, there are things we all agree on (except if we struggle with psychosis), such as the floor is flat and hard, the sky is blue, or rooms have four walls. But, perception is simply shaded by the lens through which we see the world. (I’ve always loved philosophy!)
I struggled with a bout of depression about eight years ago after it became clear my elderly mother was becoming unable to live independently because of the onset of dementia. My siblings lived in other states not close by. Truly, the realization that dealing with the day-to-day supervision and navigation of my mom‘s life was falling on my shoulders felt wildly overwhelming. She was not an easy woman and was very resistant to receiving help in the form of nursing care or residing in an assisted living community. My fear about all of this was how I was going to be able to juggle my life, my career and my mom and do it all with the apparent effortlessness of a Chinese acrobat!
At the time, a good friend who happened to be a psychiatrist said to me, “Janet, you’re depressed.” I’m smiling as I write this because I remember feeling utterly offended. My first thought was, “I’m a therapist. I’m not depressed,” as if the two things are mutually exclusive. I wanted to whip out my blue tee-shirt that had the big red “T” on it that matched my red cape which also went along with my blue tights! I remember being ashamed to get treatment for my depression because I felt like a failure as a mental health therapist. “Do therapists and psychiatrists have depression, too?” I thought. Of course, I knew better. My friend, the psychiatrist said, “You’d be surprised how many people in our field are getting treatment themselves.” Actually, that gives me some comfort.
Now, eight years later, I look back on that time and marvel at how distorted my thought process with regard to my situation and my outlook on the future had been. Life seemed grim, and I saw no way out of what appeared to be an irreconcilable situation.
The good news is that my siblings came to my assistance, and we three worked together to get our mother the living situation that would best serve her at the time. We, as a team, helped our mother deal with the transition and helped her to sell her condo and move into a new home and a new phase of her life. But, my point about my depression is that it wouldn’t allow me to see that possibility because I viewed the whole event through the eyes of my depression.
Meditation of any form, including yoga, allows us the space to view our situation from a different vantage point than the one that we hold onto so rigidly. It gives us wiggle room. It allows us the possibility of stepping a little to the left…maybe just a little more…and looking at ourselves and our lives from a fresh angle. Through it all, we have the opportunity to breathe and let go of unbending thoughts, feelings, sensations or memories.
My yoga and meditation practice allows me to loosen my grip on perfectionism and the need to control every aspect of my life. My practice firmly grounds me in clear seeing most of the time. This is a daily practice for me (notice the word practice). It’s not just flipping a switch or checking it off a list, and I’m done with it! Perfectionism is my Achilles’ heel. In times of stress, my way of reducing my anxiety is to attempt to control my environment with the utmost precision and flawlessness. So, I’ve learned to breathe and let it go daily.
A Random Act of Kindness ~ on my way to a conference last year, I was struggling to get my carry-on luggage into the compartment above my seat on an airplane. I am somewhat vertically challenged. There are always a few moments of intense anxiety as I struggle and worry that I am holding up a line of people trying to get to their seats before the take-off. When I glance at their faces, there usually is at least one eye-roll. Luckily, this time, the man behind me picked up my suitcase and placed it in the luggage compartment all in one graceful sweep. I was deeply grateful.
Even in these simple, small acts there is an energy exchange that is positive for both the giver and the receiver. Carolyn Myss, in her book, Invisible Acts of Power, would say, “He allowed me to keep my dignity and peace of mind and body. He performed an invisible act of power and empowerment.” Ah, the energy exchange: he performed an act of power and empowered me, as well.
A random act of kindness is a kind of grace, an energy flow that occurs between two beings. In theology, grace is defined as unmerited divine assistance, according to Myss.
Leave a comment on any of your experiences in which you were the receiver or the given of a random act of kindness and the grace that flowed from it. I’d love to hear from you.
So many people tell me that they aren’t affected by media images…of course, often these same people are wearing Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and sporting a Louis Vuitton bag. The truth is that we are all, if not consciously then at least subconsciously, affected by media images. Girls and women are especially barraged by images of frighteningly thin women in print and television ads. Often only portions of the bodies of these women are focused on: breasts, lips, buttocks, bodies chopped off at the neck or waist by the camera angle. In a very large number of print ads women are portrayed in a subordinate role to men with the men frequently positioned in a threatening manner or suggesting physical violence toward the women. Why? And how does that sell products? And what mark does that leave on the psyche of girls who may know intellectually that this is fiction, but learn in a rather subliminal way what our culture values? What is it teaching them? I’d lik to hear your comments on this topic. Take a look at this article. Also check out Jean Kilbourne’s YouTube videos entitled “Killing Us Softly.” What do you think?
We work hard at getting enough exercise, training and toning our bodies, developing muscle. It doesn’t occur to us that our emotional lives will be enhanced if we work on training our minds as well, developing emotional muscle. We do many reps of sequences of exercises, yet we have much less commitment to the reps required in mind exercise to develop our emotional muscle.
One of my teachers, Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, has written numerous books and recorded talks on topics I’ve found to be very compelling. One of my favorites is Don’t Bite the Hook. The premise of this CD is understanding that the mind is a thought-producing machine. That’s really all it does! It manufactures thought after thought after thought. Where we get into trouble is when we believe all of these thoughts that our minds produce. Truth is, many of those thoughts are not real. They’re based on our worries and axieties and predictions about potential worst-case scenarios, and they may even be based on past experience. But, they are not based in current reality or Truth. Pema encourages us with her gentle, unconditional support to avoid “biting the hook.” When we bite the hook, we swallow these thoughts hook, line and sinker! And, we react AS IF it were all true.
Pema uses a Tibetan word called shenpa that means “the charge behind.” Shenpa arises when we stop seeing other people as people and begin to see them as an enemy or as stupid. When we are heavily invested in our likes and dislikes, right and wrong, smart and stupid, hot and cold, and on and on, we are vulnerable to getting hooked. Shenpa is the energy behind getting hooked.
My commute to work is one of the most irritating commutes I make in my car. The actual distance is not so remote, but the traffic is ridiculous causing the car time to be quite lenghty…and frustrating. As I and thousands of other commuters are inching along to our final destinations, I can be insanely provoked by the one person who believes their time is somehow much more important than the rest of us and who believes that traffic laws don’t apply to them. When I see this person moving at a substantial clip up the shoulder, I’m sure it is my duty to pull into the shoulder to block their progress. I’m a vigilante righting wrongs that the official law enforcement officers are not available to make right by writing that person a ticket. Clearly, I have bitten the anger hook. I get swept away and become a walking, irritable, pissed off woman. If I had done the work to stop the addictive urge to bite the hook, this event would have had little impact on my peace of mind.
What I love about Pema and some other current writers is that their messages are based in ancient teachings whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Sufi, Hindu, or Muslim. There are truths that span all of the major religions and ideologies that find their way into psychological thought and clinical treatment. Love this!
In order to avoid biting the hook, we take the position of the Observing Ego, or the Witness, or Observer, or the Self. Whatever you call it, it is that observing part of yourself that can be an educated consumer of thought. This sophisticated part of ourselves observes thought, analyses the veracity of the thought and assesses what to do next with it. Does one act on it or let it pass by like a cloud in the sky.
This is all such delicious stuff because CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and many other forms of therapy are derived from these ancient teachings.
I invite you to begin to have compassion for your untamed mind and to begin to train it with care, as you would lovingly train an untamed puppy…not with harshness, but with consistency and love. Namaste.