Saturday, September 6, 2014

A New Way Forward

"...the whole process of the soul’s journey is toward the inner marriage of the mature masculine and the mature feminine.” ~ Marion Woodman, Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity

The traditions that molded the woman that I am today are rooted in the deep, segregated south―Mississippi. I hear my pretty mother's voice in a youthful singsong as she chants the tongue twist of duplicate letters that make up her birth state―M- little i, ss, little i, ss, little i, pp, little i. I am rooted to segregation, yet I am a product of de-segregation. I am both old world and new promise. I am both wounded and healed. I am the leaf that grew from the extended olive branch when my beautiful grandmother, Anna Belle Latham, uprooted her reluctant family and headed out west in the early 1960s. When the Freedom Riders― men and women, boys and girls, black and white― came calling, Anna Belle reached within and then outward to find a more peaceful space, or perhaps she was simply following her soul's journey. Those freedom fighting northerners were not welcomed, my mother told me. They were not called to come in and unravel the package that was so nicely and so neatly assembled in a pretty little segregated box. The shifts, and the unsettling, my mother tells me, were not appreciated in a town where everyone knew their place.

I am a child of the sixties and seventies―old world melding into new promise. I was born and raised in the city of the angels, Los Angeles.  My childhood friends were Jewish, black, mixed, Chicano, Persian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, wealthy and poor. The mothers who visited my elementary school class during the holiday season brought in Latke pancakes and taught us Hanukah songs. The private parties in my high school town near the beaches that lined the Pacific Ocean were filled with surfers, dead heads, drug heads, sushi and a raw vegan feast that at the time didn't have the fancy names. I am old, and I am new. I see the pain, but I see the healing as well. Sometimes the densely packed pain of a culture feels too heavy to move, too mired in the complicated, complicit layers of the familiar where everyone knows their place.

This month One Woman One Voice Project features Rasib Mehmood, a gentleman poet, a PhD scholar, a Pakistani national and the freedom fighting face of new promise. With his lilting, deep-searching words, Rasib stands poised to figuratively sit at the lunch counters where the Freedom Fighters dared to peacefully stake their place. He stands poised to begin the unraveling of the war men and women all over the world are facing―domestic abuse and other gender-based warfare. My soul's journey is to bow in gratitude to the old while reaching toward the new. The old―the segregation of women into stifling compounds of victimhood and men into hallow, shame-filled pockets of denial― while the familiar, is packed too densely to see any shards of light. The new―men and women of all nations, gay and straight, old and young, gender-specific and not bound by masculine nor feminine―is that reach for the mature marriage that Marion Woodman speaks of and perhaps our collective souls' journey as men and women. It is that peaceful space that my beautiful Anna Belle found when she courageously settled in the dessert land of promise leaving the tattered pieces of the familiar on the dusty road behind her.

Read Rasib's poetry here!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Shhh—Don’t Tell Our Family Business - 4 Ways to Break the Cycle

“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” --Fyodor Dostoyevsky,The Brothers Karamazov
All families have collective secrets such as shared rituals, traditions, or practices that they do not wish to share with the world. Siblings hold secrets from their parents, while parents may choose to withhold some aspects of their adult lives from their children. These are not the secrets that will be discussed here.

1. The hard conversation - A client, let’s call him Billy, came to me because of his procrastination. I asked Billy when it started. He told me that as a teenager he suspected that his father was an alcoholic. Billy began avoiding his father, his friends, and even his schoolwork. As we talked further, he revealed that he still avoided his father. Billy now had a wife and two small sons but felt a sense of unease when he visited his father and mother with his own family. Billy told me that his father teased him relentlessly, which resulted in Billy packing up his family. Billy expressed a desire for his children to know their grandparents, yet he could not bear to be in the presence of his father and avoided his calls.

No one in Billy's family discussed his father’s drinking. His mother and two younger sisters all played along with the lie and laughed uncomfortably when their father was drunk and verbally cruel. Billy worried that he would hurt is mother and two sisters if he told the truth about his father. Nevertheless, Billy agreed to have a hard conversation with his dad. He told his father that he loved him very much and wanted him to be a part of his life, but he would not visit if he drank. Billy felt a tremendous release after speaking with his father. As a result, he was more focused and productive at home and at work. Billy’s honesty not only liberated him it served as an invitation to his father and the rest of his family to heal.

2. Self-love - The emotional swastika the keeps families hidden behind secrets is the mighty monster of shame. Author Brenè Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly,Shame derives its power by being unspeakable.” The more fearful Billy become of speaking his truth, the more that monster grew in his life. Shame tells us we deserve punishment. It tells us that we are not worthy and to keep our shameful family deeds hidden behind the shield of our secrets. Shame tells us we are responsible for other people and how they feel. And the most damaging of all, shame tells us that we must not ever tell anyone. When we are silenced, our soul self is diminished because every aspect of our being is a piece of the Divine. Self-love is the most powerful way toward wholeness. When we deny any aspect of the self, we suffer. Shame cannot co-exist with self-love.

3. Banishing the false construct of “good” and “bad” - Culture sets a value system of “good” and “bad.” Within this construct, we judge all aspects of our humanity when our divine nature is to accept both the shadow and light of our being. Children who experience behaviors that are painful by the hands of a parent may numb those painful emotions with alcohol, drugs, anger, self-sabotaging behaviors, co-dependent relations and more in order to protect their parent from the feared societal label of being “bad.” I encourage my clients to reframe “good” and “bad” to “broken” and “whole.” We wouldn't dare judge and shame our hunger. We can learn not to judge and shame the self or those who may have hurt us. With that simple shift, we can examine our lives and the actions of those we love without judgment and move toward true healing as easily as we fill our empty stomachs when we are hungry.

4. Embracing the value of our family shadow - Our shadow self is a loving barometer that directs us to pay attention to our wounded parts. Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung said, “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Finding Myself Through Love

Mosaic Path
We’re all just walking each other home. ~Ram Dass

We cannot be anything less than the divine source from which we came, and that source is pure, unabashed love. When we separate from that boundless energy of love, we begin to feel the discord of that separation. It may manifest in different ways in our life such as illness, lack, depression, substance abuse, etc., but it all steams from one thing—separation from Source. For me it manifested in unhealthy relationships with men that simply mirrored my lack of self-love.
I can tell you exactly when I stopped loving myself. I was seven years old. I witnessed my father brutally beating my mother. In the dark, still hours between midnight and dawn, I heard my mother’s screams. In a desperate attempt to save herself, she broke free from my father and ran into my bedroom.

“Call the police, Stephanie.” She cried, before my father snatched her off her feet and carried her into another room.

Then I heard slaps and punches and ugly, profane words delivered by a man who was so far from the Daddy I knew, so far from the love of the Source from which he came that the alcohol inside of him ruled his actions. I could not call the police. I was paralyzed by a fear so devastating that I lost control of my bodily functions and wet my pajama pants.

I blamed myself from that day on for not saving my mother. I found ways to punish myself by attracting other broken souls to mirror my pain in the form of unhealthy relationships that mimicked the relationship between my mother and father.

Healing begins with loving the self and banishing blame and shame
The first act of healing began when I stopped blaming myself and acknowledged that “shame” and “blame” were simply false constructs of my own making that kept me from embracing the love within me. I often tell my clients to consider reframing “right” and “wrong” to “broken” and “whole.” Our wholeness is our connection to Source, and that connection is established through loving the self. Loving who we are and shaming, blaming cannot co-exist. When I began to frame my experiences in this new way, I was able to forgive my father and all that I designated as negative experiences in my life. I understood the purpose of those lesson and the way those experiences brought me back to love. Love is our divine home.

Learning to love my inner child
A deeper healing took place when I began to love the little girl inside of me who was so afraid and so ashamed. In visualization exercises that I now use with my clients, the lost sense of love that my seven-year-old self experienced could be restored.

Loving the self brings us in alignment with our true purpose and in harmony with others
When I began to love myself, I opened to my gifts and my divine purpose. All that is powerful comes to us when love is the guiding force in our lives. We can’t help but have peaceful relationships when we acknowledge the humanity and love within others. They will either match our love or move away from us.

With each trial we are simply falling forward toward the divine within us. My childhood experiences and my experiences with men were all shards of light that created a mosaic life path to walk me home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

3 Ways to Show Up for Yourself

Are you fully present for your life? That may be appear to be a trick question because so many of us never consider what it means to show up fully for ourselves. Many of us are living our lives on autopilot. One of my clients, a successful sales executive and single mother of three children, let’s call her Lisa, struggled to show up fully for herself. She wanted to go back to school to complete her undergraduate degree, but found myriad reasons for not following through with her dreams.
1.  Call Forth Your Best Self
We are multidimensional beings with the sum of our experiences operating simultaneously inside of us. Do you choose with intention which aspect of yourself will be the dominant voice in our life? Are you operating from the hurt little eight-year-old self—the self that didn’t get Mommy’s love or daddy’s approval? Lisa related to me that she did not have the time or money to fulfill her dreams. When we explored possibilities, Lisa told me that all three of her children were in an expensive private elementary school, which kept her finances tight. She also disclosed that she relied solely on the limited availability of her mother for childcare. When we explored other options, Lisa resisted and finally said: “I don’t ever want my children to feel the way I did growing up. I was never supported.” It didn’t occurred to Lisa that she was continuing the pattern she learned from her parents by failing to support herself.
A small part of Lisa did not feel she deserved to be supported, while another part of her knew she would thrive in her chosen career once she obtained an undergraduate degree.  Our best self is the part of us that knows we are capable, strong, all knowing, loveable, courageous, intelligent, deserving. It is simply a choice whether we are self-directed by the most injured part of our being or the most powerful part of our being.
2.  Establishing a Practice
In order to think with intention, we have to develop positive practices. A meditation practice can train the brain to quiet the rambling, negative, monkey mind thoughts that keep us stuck. Lisa was plagued with a loop of guilty thoughts when she didn’t give her children the childhood that she really desired for herself. I suggested to Lisa that she could give herself that wonderful, supportive childhood now by finding a way to finance her dream of earning her degree. The practice of mindfulness, which is simply being fully present in every moment, helped Lisa to connect to the ordinary moments in her home with her children. Lisa discovered that her children were happy, felt loved, and did not need the added luxury of a private, elementary school education. Journaling helped Lisa to document the joy she received doing simple activities with her children like riding bikes in the park, which helped to dissolve her guilt about not being a good enough single mother.  
3.  Stop Living in the “But”
Most of us have our eyes trained on the past. We are programmed to accentuate our failures and wounds.  I really want love, but my last lover betrayed me, or I really want that job, but I don’t have the right credentials. A psychologist friend of mine told me she is trained to hone in on what comes after the but when her clients speak to her because that’s where they are living. Are you living in the but? Do you wish for a future of your dreams by remaining tethered to a past that delivered disappointments? Lisa discovered that she was living in the but and wanted out. She is now enrolled in college, placed her children in public school, and used the money she saved to hire a part-time nanny and fully finance her education. Lisa is happy, even eager, to invest her money, time, and best efforts in her most precious asset—herself.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

4 Powerful Steps to Let Go (Finally!)

"... like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us. " ~ Gaston Bachelard

How many of us married either a slightly different version or the stark opposite of our mothers, fathers, or other primary care giver whom we have unresolved business? How many of us created similar situations in our adult life that existed within our family dynamic? If no one spoke truthfully in our family, does our intimate partnership mirror the same behavior? 

I attracted a relationship that mirrored my unresolved childhood issues. In that relationship, I re-engaged with my 4 year old self, my 8 year old self, my defiant teen (that happened during the separation), and finally, finally, finally grew up my little girl and LET GO of my pain, shame, brokenness and everything else that no longer served me. Taking full responsibility was the first and crucial step.

1.  Acknowledging Our Part - The Silenced Inner Child Finally Speaks
Intimate relationships often provide an elaborate hiding place. We often attract either similar or opposite experiences within our adult relationships that mimic, in some way, our childhood experiences.  If we are afraid of experiencing our feelings, finding an intimate partner who does all of the emoting for us can keep our fear hidden. Perhaps we are afraid of taking care of ourselves financially or emotionally and thus create situations wherein we are always caring for others or are over-caring for our partner who pays the bills. Perhaps we don't believe we deserve love. Finding a physically, verbally or otherwise abusive partner will solve our need to hide from that belief, too. Acknowledging that we have called forth the relationships that we may deem harmful is an empowering act. Taking responsibility empowers us to call forth our deepest desire to heal and engage in our dreams. Healing begins when we begin a dialogue with our silenced inner child and acknowledge his or her pain.

2.  Expanding Our  Stories - Hearing Our Inner Child   
This is the step where most people get stuck because their stories lack fluidity. If we insist on keeping our gaze on the relationship we called forth by replaying the abusive spouse tape or the cheating spouse tape or whatever tape that we play to keep ourselves tethered to one aspect of our story, we fail to see the way our story wants to grow. Our stories can grow beyond a singular painful act by healing the original pain. By listening to the brilliant child who called forth an opportunity for our adult self to see their pain, we finally begin to heal. Our inner child may be begging us to speak up for ourselves, or step into our gifts, or let go of irrational fears, or some other instruction that was not possible for our child to accomplish during the growing up years. Psychotherapist Alice Miller refers to our inner child as our "true self."  When we hear and heed the wisdom of our "true self," the chains of our suffering are broken.  

3.  Embracing Ourselves and the Other - Growing Up Our Inner Child 
Once we grace our stories with an opportunity to grow, we see the perfection of our choices. We see how we called forth an opportunity for healing through our current relationships. The vantage of seeing the greater truth of our choices gives us the space to not only forgive ourselves and the other we called forth, but to celebrate the brilliant way the human psyche fosters healing.

4.  Falling Into Place - Our Inner Child Finds Joy
Until I took ownership of what needed healing within me, I could not find it in my heart to really understand the edifice of my suffering. Blaming the very relationship that I called forth to find healing kept my attention outside of my needs and created its own prison. The emotional house that the broken child needed repaired came into view when I took a deeper look. Finally seeing what was needed gave me the courage to take responsibility for my choices, do the work required to heal my child, and then the miracle―everything fell into place. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "It is a happy talent to know how to play." When my work was done and the child inside of me was happy, healthy and healed, I once again could begin to dream, and with sheer spirited abandon engaged in play.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Escaping the Prison of Being Right

"I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be."Albert Einstein
Have you ever stood in the blinding light of self-righteousness?  Perhaps your Republican neighbor is the devil, your boss Hitler, and your cheating spouse the dirt beneath your feet. I certainly have had those feelings. When I marched as a teen to end apartheid in front Shell gas stations, there was no telling me that the Shell  Company's decision not to divest from troubled South Africa at the height of the abolish apartheid movement was nothing more than unadulterated greed. When I found out that an ex-partner had been having affairs, he was lower than low and deserved to be punished. What I failed to see was how my stanch positions caused me to suffer and stifled a beautiful opportunity to grow.
When we fail to see ourselves in the other, we suffer.  If we refuse to see the humanity in another, even our enemy, we fail to have compassion for ourselves. Nelson Mandela said that "Our human compassion binds us the one to the other―not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future." When we insist on being right, there is no space to move forward. If one is cloaking the fullness of another in any way, they are cloaking the fullness in themselves as well.
Yesterday I had the pleasure, while volunteering at a polling station to help a dear friend running for a state office, of seeing two people on opposite sides of the political divide come together and have a colorful, thoughtful, and informative conversation. They listened.  They considered.  They acknowledged fully the humanity of the other and found, on several occasions, not only common ground, but a shift in their position.
What are we denying when we eliminate the possibility of being wrong? The need to be right is like wearing an emotional suit of amour. Strong emotions often awaken old wounds that need healing. When I experienced a partner who had sex outside of our relationship, it brought back the abandoned little girl who missed her father. My failed adult relationship was really a gift that offered awareness and an invitation to heal that long-standing wound. My strong advocacy for others as a teen gave rise to my often ignored need to advocate for myself. We call forth relationships to mirror what requires healing within. Our obdurate positions are often a cry from within to attend to our unfinished emotional business. When we fail to examine our actions, we deny the gifts they bestow.
Responsibility without judging the self is the key. When we insist on being right, we take no responsibility for our personal history and how we may have formed our thought patterns. We turn a deaf ear to the other we hold as "wrong," and cut off and strangle the most fundamental parts of our being―love and compassion. We often do this because we judge our actions. By rendering them "right" or "wrong," we find it too painful to visit the "wrong" parts within us, which are merely our wounded parts. Healing can be as simple as choosing to move, as Nelson Mandela said, toward "hope for the future." By opening our hearts to our wounds, we embrace the opportunity to grow, expand, and recognize our humanity and the humanity of others. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What Do You Cling To?

I veer away from politics. It is my self-imposed third rail. Personal growth, self-empowerment, and becoming self-aware can get lost in the body politic because of its divisiveness, inflexible structure, and suspicious nature. But as I fought to go back to sleep at 3:30 this morning, President Obama’s infamous quote during his first campaign played a continuous loop in my head:
“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio—like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them. …So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or, you know, anti-trade sentiment [as] a way to explain their frustrations.”
The ensuing debate will not be discussed here. However, why and what we cling to when we feel broken will. We attract where we are emotionally, and where we are emotionally is the sum of our life experiences. 
President Obama’s quote put me in mind of what I clung to during my marriage. While there was love and endearing moments, I held on to the parts of my marriage that were filled with rage, immobilizing and castigating words, and sometimes-violent actions.That became my supreme focus. I held those moments almost dearly to my heart, enveloped them into my very being, and let those moments become the very essence of who I was. Why? It was where I found comfort. Those actions were the actions of my father, the man who terrorized my mother, me, and my two sisters with the unpredictable and raging actions of a drunk. It is no wonder I attracted a mate to replicate some parts of my childhood experience because that was the space where I craved love and healing.
We attract what will heal us. We are not seeking to cause ourselves harm; we are seeking to understand. To re-frame what may be deemed as disastrous into a sublime opportunity is the true nature of our choice if we are open to healing. Our soul desires to grow and thus the repetitive act of re-engaging in what caused us pain in different forms provides us unlimited opportunities to move beyond that pain. The continuous loop will never cease if we fail to heed the opportunity to heal and grow. We will engage in the same types of relationships, compulsive behaviors, and self-sabotaging impulses.
To look deeply at ourselves and have compassion for the other is the only way to move forward. What do I cling to, and how is this an opportunity to become whole? That is the liberating question and catalyst toward the process of healing.  Dire circumstances and binding relationships simply exists to remind us how to return to who we really are—loving, caring, whole, creative, curious, wondrous beings.