Pain is Good For You

In the United States, we are constantly given the message that pain is our enemy. We are taught to believe that we should be happy and comfortable, that life should be convenient and fun, that if we are unhappy or in pain, we should take a pill to take that pain away. We go to great lengths to avoid pain, from drinking too much, going from one relationship to another, working relentlessly, isolating ourselves or other mind-altering substances (to name a few). Many of the clients I see have problems now-not because they had pain-but because of the consequences they now suffer from avoiding that pain. Many people stay in miserable situations and refuse to follow their dreams out of fear of pain. What lengths do you go to in order to avoid pain in your life?
If pain was truly the enemy, why would such a sophisticated system (the body and mind) find it necessary to keep imposing it upon the living creatures of the earth?
Joseph Campbell was a gifted teacher, lecturer, and expert in comparative mythology and religion. He once said, based on looking at the common characteristics of heroes in stories spanning across the globe and through thousands of years, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
Pain is your greatest indicator that something in your life needs to be healed or acknowledged. It is your body and mind’s way of trying to help you live a better life. It is your pain that points to the origin of the problem, and can be your most valuable source of personal growth.
Historically, shamans also go through a process of purification by pain and suffering. In the process of healing themselves, the shaman becomes a “wounded healer”. Joan Halifax (The Shaman’s Initiation) says, “Those who have gone through this initiatory crisis are often more gifted, heartier, more full of humor, and wiser than most individuals in his or her culture. It is clear that the rigors of the initiatory journey, combined with the challenge of the shaman’s work, usually require more than a little strength of mind and body. These experiences of suffering, which are usually felt as defeat, a failure of strength, I discovered are the basis of personal power”
There are times when nothing can be done to ease the pain. Times when the hurt is so big in the body, mind or spirit-that there is nothing to do but wait and persevere. Everyone has a choice in these situations whether to use this pain for destructive purposes or to grow in compassion, dignity and courage. You can use your pain to justify rage, bitterness, and contempt, or you can allow it to grow you into something more than you were before. If you can use your knowledge of pain and healing to help another who is in pain, you will be a beacon of inspiration and courage in the world.

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Master Negotiation Skills

We all have our not-so-classy moments when we find ourselves failing at productively advocating for what we want. We might respond to our frustration and sense of failure with yelling, sarcasm, condescension, silent treatments, gossip, isolating ourselves or even physical violence. Have the occasional shouting matches and guilt trips gotten you what you wanted in the past-or have they created a new set of problems of their own? Why should you master negotiation skills?

There is a wide spectrum of important conversations we all deal with in life, whether it is a teenager’s recent behavior, figuring out how to co-parent with an ex-partner or negotiating for a higher salary. Unfortunately, people faced with situations that matter a great deal to them tend to experience what is considered a fight-or-flight response activation in their bodies and minds. What this means is as a result of fear-producing thoughts, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released into the bloodstream. This generally causes the heart to beat faster and blood to move into the muscles (this is your body’s way of helping you get ready to run or fight). One tends to become highly aware and ready to take on what the body perceives as the “enemy”.

You may respond to these situations by retreating (flight). Sometimes, pulling back is the only thing that you can do (ie; a tiger is lunging at you and you have nothing to fight back with). If you find that you tend to withdrawal every time you have a conflict, you are likely to become depressed and anxious. Why? Because when you do not advocate for yourself, you are sending a message to your brain that you do not value yourself enough to take care of yourself (producing depressed feelings). You may also be telling yourself that you “can’t” stick up for yourself (producing anxiety/fear feelings).

You may also respond to these situations by becoming aggressive (fight). If this is your style, you are more likely to have anger management problems. You may get what you want through negative coercion (intimidation, threatening, name-calling…), but perhaps you have noticed that even your closest relationships are worn thin and broken by this behavior. To make matters worse, you have also likely burned a bridge, created distance from the people you want to be close to, and lost credibility. Is that what you really want?

You may have mastered a combination of both, and become passive-aggressive. If you use condescension, patronizing, purposely being late, flaking out or otherwise sneakily getting others back for letting you down, ask yourself if you have ever solved the problem that way. You may be driving the person who offended you crazy (which may make you feel better in a sense), but you never addressed the problem and thereby the problem persists.

If you find that you take on one of the above behaviors when faced with conflict, chances are those behaviors aren’t working very effectively. Am I right?

Now, I will discuss exactly how to negotiate for what you want. This may be very foreign to you, but it is a very powerful technique that can be used by anyone with the willingness to try. For additional information, I greatly recommend the book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” http://www.vitalsmarts.com/crucialconversations_book.aspx whose main principles I include in this section.

1.) First of all, just because you feel like yelling or withdrawing doesn’t mean that is the best course of action. You may have strong emotions, but strong emotions don’t cause poor behavior, you do. Stay cool and take some time if you need it.

2.) Ask yourself what you really want for yourself, others, for the relationship. How would you act if you wanted these results? You must hold firm to what you really want. Do you want to be respected at work? Do you want to be closer to your spouse? Then act in a way that will get you there.

3.) Ask yourself whether you and this person have any goals in common. Perhaps you both want to be in a happy marriage. Maybe you disagree about everything else, but you both want to raise the kids in the healthiest way possible. Maybe, you both want the company to be as productive as possible…? Move away from seeing the person involved as the enemy. Move towards seeing them as a human being who has a different perspective, who may shed light on the situation as a whole. See them as someone who will benefit from seeing your perspective as well.

4.) Get the other person ready to hear what you have to say. If the other person feels unsafe, they will generally withdrawal or get aggressive. Watch to see if they stop talking or start raising their voice. Notice if they are being condescending or rude. If so, this is not the time to make your point. If they are behaving in this way, it means that they do not feel safe talking to you.

a. You can help to establish safety by

i. not letting yourself get sucked into withdrawing or becoming aggressive yourself,

ii. telling them what you really want (ie “I want us to both be as happy as possible in this relationship”) and what purpose you guess you both have in common,

iii. minimizing damage by telling them what you are –not- trying to say (ie “I’m not saying you are lazy, boring…)

5.) Once the other person is behaving as if they are feeling safe (more eye contact, more open, no defensive behavior), come into the situation with the attitude that both people’s views of the situation are equally important. Do not move to this step until you have really established feelings of trust in the other person. If they doubt your intentions, they won’t hear a word you have to say. If they trust your intentions, they will listen to anything you say. So make sure you have good intentions and that you have communicated them as such.

a. Give the person the bare bones facts. Be specific. (Focus on what has happened or what is happening from your perspective). Do not play therapist and tell the other person what he/she thinks or feels (that makes people defensive). Speak for yourself alone and from your own perspective (ie “From what I saw…”).

b. You may tell the other person (tentatively) at this time what the facts seem to mean to you at this point. Understand that your interpretation of the facts is only an interpretation (which is subjective). Know that your interpretations are the cause of your emotions, and because interpretations are subject to change, so are your feelings about the matter. Be open to the fact that as they respond, they might add information which could change your mind about the situation.

c. Ask the person for clarification, and keep an open mind.

d. Once you have both added information to define the situation as accurately as possible, it is time to go back to why you are having this conversation. Let the person know what you need from them at this time, and what outcome is likely if the situation is adjusted vs. not adjusted (ie “If I am the only one doing household chores, I will find myself wanting to pull away from you out of resentment, and wanting to give you less positive attention. If you do the dishes every other night, I will feel loved and will want to give you more attention, backrubs…whatever”).

e. The more information you both can add about why you want what you want (sticking to the facts), the easier it will be to come up with a plan C that works for both of you. For example, if I want to go to take a ferry boat ride today and my friend wants to see a movie, it may seem like there is no middle ground. But if we discuss why we want what we want, it is easier to find a win-win solution. I want to take a ferry so I can be near the water and my friend wants to go to a movie to zone out and get lost in a story. Is there somewhere where we can both accomplish what we want? Perhaps we can go to the beach and read novels…

Remember, if you have been talking for more than 15-20 minutes and you are starting to get heated, take a break and commit to resolving the issue at a later time. Stay focused on your objectives and don’t be distracted with details that don’t pertain to the task at hand (more to come on fair fighting).

Try out these skills and see how they impact your everyday relationships, your work and your ability to communicate effectively in the community. You will be amazed at the results!

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How to be a Perfect Person

Joseph Campbell once said “We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about”. My question for you is, what does perfection mean to you? Does it mean having the best job, the nicest car, the best reputation, the best looking partner, the most money? Maybe it means always being happy or always having the right things to say. Whatever it is, even if you had all of those things, would there always be something else?

There is nothing wrong with doing the best that you can, and being the best person that you can be. Part of what makes life interesting is making the very most out of what you have to work with. So what is it that floods you with this drive to always do better, be better, have more? And at the end of your days, after all of your efforts, what will you have to look back on? According to the Bible, a man referred to as King Solomon wrote “I have seen all the things that are under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind”. I believe that there are two very different ways to strive for perfection. The first one is to follow your bliss, in a spirit of play-like an artist plays with the brush until she/he achieves mastery. The second type of perfection is only concerned with appeasing the ego and feels like work. What do I mean by “appeasing the ego”? The ego is your false sense of self, your illusions based on judgements you have placed on yourself. The person that you think that you are and the person you think other people think you are or should be. Underlying this type of illusion is a fundamental belief that unless you meet these conditions, you are not good enough, lovable, or acceptable.

Lao Tzu put it well when he said “What difference between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!” If you are going to strive for mastery, at least do it for the right reasons, and do it in the spirit of play.

The truth is, in being in the moment, and following your bliss, you can find perfection-one moment at a time. Maybe not the perfect you thought you had to be, but who you were really meant to be.

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Aim For The Sky

I like flying. From the moment I step out onto the sidewalk where the recorded speakerphone lady barks at you to move your car, to the fluid motion of people filing their way to or from just about everywhere. I tolerate the dirty looks from security guards, and I take the escalator towards my gate. Some people hate the process of waiting in line, finding out where they are meant to go, waiting for their flight and sitting next to someone with a possible personal hygiene problem.

Not me. Something about this kind of chaos fills me with wonder and joy. There are endless possibilities for unforgettable moments in an airport. People you meet in the coffee shop, people you talk to along the way. People from places you’ve never even heard of before, or places you always wished you could go. It seems like nothing is impossible in an airport-nothing in your life that can’t be changed for the better.

Think about it. What’s more ridiculous sounding than a 400,000lb metal machine propelling itself through the air with 250 people in it?

But the thing I like most of all is that moment when the airplane lifts off the ground and I feel that blanket of air boost me off the ground. There was a time not too distant in our past when the idea of flying through the air still sounded like science fiction. I think of the early dreamers who started with diagrams, made models, tried and failed several times as the centuries passed. It is amazing to me to read about the early pilots who had the courage to launch themselves into the sky with their handmade balloons and gliders. A person with that kind of gall would be considered irresponsible or crazy today-and they probably were back in their time as well.

A certain kind of paradox hits me when I’m up in the air looking down at what appears to be a sleepy and magical world. It hits me that everything I worry and stress about, all my thoughts and desires are only a speck far away on the ground. That we are all just doing the best that we can to get on in life, but that in the end, none of our efforts and stresses really matter. On the other hand, somebody following their dream was a part of why I am able to have this experience right now.

I think that a lot of the people who tried their hardest and failed at creating the first airplane probably thought that their life was a failure. They never reaped the rewards of their efforts-much like many of the great thinkers, philosophers, inventors, artists…

So what is success? Is it having lots of money, lots of respect, everybody wanting you? Who has impacted your life more? The person who aimed at the sky and missed, or the person who aimed at the ground and reached it? We try to be the person who wins on the ground, but we are truly inspired by the brave soul who aims for the sky.

Is there something in life you feel called to do? Something that sounds ridiculous and wonderful at the same time-something you know would make the world a better place? Are you spending all your time staring at the ground, trying to forget about the sky? Is that what you really want for your life?

Take courage if you aim for the sky and miss. You indeed may never see the results of your efforts come to fruition, but the act of following your heart will impact the world in ways you can’t imagine.

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6 Basic Tips For Optimum Well-being, Happiness and Health

There are always going to be people wanting to sell you something.

From medications, to detoxifying elixers, to weight loss supplements, therapies, to time-shares in Mexico, everyone is trying to make a living and everyone would like to be the one to sell you their product or service. This is not inherently a bad thing-everyone needs to get by somehow, and their products may have a valuable part in improving your life.

That being said, how can a person truly be healthy? I often get people coming into my office wanting a magic pill and wanting me to “fix” them. As frustrating as it sounds, I can help with one aspect of a person’s health (working with thoughts, emotions, beliefs and lifetime patterns), but I cannot give them the life they want if other important aspects of their life are being ignored.

If you want to be healthy and your life is not what you want it to be, ask yourself these 6 questions…

1. Do you eat right and exercise?
I know it’s been overstated but that doesn’t get you off the couch for 45 minutes at least 4 times per week. Studies have proven that exercising for at least 45 minutes is just as effective (if not more) as taking antidepressant medication. It also burns off the extra fight-or-flight hormones for those of you who struggle with anxiety. If you neglect this aspect of your life, you will not achieve the mental capacity that is within you.
How much coffee do you drink? Energy drinks, caffeinated sodas, caffeinated tablets? Each time you consume caffeine, you trigger your fight-or-flight response system, which means you are basically running on adrenaline. This leads to depletion of vitamin B1, which is considered an anti-stress vitamin. Ever wonder why you are so anxious? It may be the stimulants (that goes for the smokers too, sorry). If you have any type of problem with anxiety or panic, this should be the first thing to go.
Do you get enough sunshine? A great deal of mental and physical illness has been linked to vitamin D3 deficiency. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a great deal of people who suffer from depression, largely due to lack of Vitamin D deficiency. Have your doctor check out your levels, or pick some up at the supermarket.
The amount of sugar that is consumed by the average person in the United States is way too high (check all the labels on your food and see for yourself how many grams of sugar everything contains). The short-burning fuel spikes the blood sugar up and then drops dramatically. If the body does not have sufficient fuel to run, it may release adrenaline (again making you anxious), and triggers mood swings. If you have trouble with mood swings, try cutting out the sugar and upping your slow-burning fuels (complex carbohydrates and proteins) and see the difference it makes.
You may try cutting out wheat and dairy products if you have ADHD. Try it for a week or so and see if you notice a difference. Some people find they have much better concentration if they cut out foods that they are sensitive to.
I am not claiming to be a nutrition expert, by all means do the research yourself. Check out Dr. Amen’s research on brain chemistry, mental health and nutrition.

2. Do you have some close connections? If you don’t have any good friends, go out and make some. Join a club, an internet forum, or volunteer. I have noticed with all of my clients that they are greatly improved while they are socially connected in some way. Focus on being a good friend and picking people who you can trust.

3. Are you following your bliss? Maybe your life isn’t exactly what you want it to be, but chances are you can make it a lot more like what you want it to be with a little bit of elbow grease. Make a list of all of the things that bring you joy, and do them as often as possible. If you have no time, make time. If your life was the sculpture, you are the sculptor.

4. Are you serving the world? Victor Frankl, a famous historical existential psychologist talked about getting through even the most traumatizing experiences (in his case prison camps during WWII) by creating meaning-or turning that experience into some way you can serve the world. Existential psychological theory maintains that the ultimate freedom lies in taking full responsibility-responsibility for your thoughts, actions, feelings and your impact the world.

5. Do you think positively? Do you spend time focused on what you have? You can think of your thoughts as little pills. Negative thoughts are like taking little sick pills, positive thoughts are like taking good medicine. Try thinking about all the things that bother you for 30 minutes and see how you feel. Then try thinking about all the things you are grateful for 30 minutes. You will notice a big difference in how you feel in your body as well as your emotional state. You will also notice that people tend to treat you better when you have been thinking positive thoughts.

6. Do you give yourself a break? Cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake, and take time to really rest. Let yourself enjoy peace and quiet. This does not mean sitting on the couch watching Jerry Springer reruns for 3 days straight.

These are all very common sense things that a person can do and also require a great deal of self-discipline. If you can’t afford or are otherwise opposed to counseling and don’t mind working hard, try following the steps above. Even changing one of these aspects of your life can greatly enhance your life.

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The Power of Silence

It’s a Monday morning, partly cloudy and I’m sitting, drinking nettle tea and staring out the window. I see orange, green, gold and magenta leaves gently cascading down on a line of antique homes and the sound of cars a whisper in the background. The clock ticks gently behind me. I am here on this chair, in these clothes, right now. I can feel my heartbeat and I am one with my breath.

There is no time, there is only now.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of complete quiet-the state of mind where there is no separation between the dancer and the dance or the singer and the song. When you are lying on your back facing the stars you may just forget who you think you are and remember that you are a part of the sky, and the sky is part of you and you may feel that serenity, peace and joy of being alive.

Many wise words have been spoken on the value of silence. Jesus rebukes waves that threaten to overturn his disciples’ boat with “Peace, be still”. The Bible also describes the fruits of the spirit (uncluttered by thoughts, motivations, desires) as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Lao Tzu says in the Tao te Ching “Empty your mind of all thoughts, let your heart be at peace. Watch the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their return”. Ohiyesa, from the Wahpeton Santee Sioux said “Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence…What are the fruits of silence? They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character”. The Koran says in regard to Ramadan, “Wash your hands. Wash your face. Do not eat or speak as you normally do. Other food and other words will come in the silence”.

Animals, and small children seem to have this gift of inner silence and are able of unbridled joy and contentment in the most simple things- piece of paper, the paw of a kitten, a newly blooming dandelion, a genuine smile. So what happens to us along the way that clouds our faith, serenity and robs us of our joy?

I believe that in life, we learn things along the way-things that weren’t necessarily true-about ourselves, each other and the world. These things cloud our vision and block our joy. The more blocked our vision, the more mentally ill we become, the more complicated the maze becomes back to our true selves.

If there was one piece of advice I could give you to help yourself out if you are unhappy, depressed, anxious, jaded, have a low self-esteem, or are otherwise troubled, it would be this.

If you want to have a healthier mind, use it less. Forget who you think you are, who others think you are, where you’ve been or where you think you are going. Make room for your true self to emerge by being right here, right now” (October 11, 2010).

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