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Developing a Practical Spiritual Practice

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In my last post I discussed how having a spiritual practice can be a huge catalyst for healing. I also know, from my own experience, that creating a practice and sticking with it can be challenging and even bit daunting. Today’s post will lay out some common pitfalls that can get in the way of feeling confident and how to find ways to meet your individual needs so that you can get started or be more consistent in tapping into the wisdom that is within you.

I believe keeping it simple (especially in the beginning)  helps you stay focused and actually make time to practice. You can always add more later! Think of this as the foundation that will enhance your life.

1. Pitfall: Resistance to meditation 

I hear this all the time with my clients! And I totally get it. I started meditating when I was 19 years old because I literally had no choice. I was so codependent and self-destructive that I thought I was losing my mind. I threw myself into a practice after reading Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The book was so easy to follow and reading it became my favorite part of the day. If you are feeling like you need a place to start, this would be a great resource. I am also in the process of creating a meditation series, so stay tuned!

I will admit I encourage everyone to have a meditation practice, but I also realize that meditation does not work for everyone. This is where mindfulness comes in! I have found that people assume that being mindful requires meditation, and it so doesn’t. There are so many ways to be more mindful. You could be more mindful in this very moment by being as present as you possible can. Just making a conscious choice to sit still for a minute is practicing mindfulness.

Solution: Creating a daily ritual that really lights you up 

It could literally be anything, but you MUST do it everyday, no matter what. Whether it is drinking your morning cup of coffee sitting in the sun or singing in the shower, MAKE IT HAPPEN. I would challenge you to find rituals throughout the day and evening, but start with the morning. That way you start your day off on a good note. Even if the shit is hitting the fan in your life, make a commitment to be there for yourself for at least 10 minutes at the beginning of the day.

2. Pitfall: Spirituality is only a priority when things are going bad

I confess that even though I have been meditating since I was 19, it was an off and on practice. Without fail I would start to feel better and my interest in spirituality and commitment to prayer and meditation went out the window. I would get what I needed (new job, more money, new boyfriend, better friend, the apartment of my dreams) and turn my back on what got be there in the first place. I was a fair-weather friend and the worst kind. I used my spirituality as a way to get what I wanted, instead of becoming my best self. I have a lot of compassion for how I was because I do realize that I needed to grow up in order to make a commitment to living a spiritual life, but I would have appreciated the reality check back then.

It is so easy to get complacent when life is comfortable and so easy to get our shit together after something awful happens. It is so hard to make spirituality a priority when everything in our life is going well. Often we may need a spiritual teacher to help keep us on track because it can be so hard to stay disciplined all on our own when we aren’t faced with a crisis. My favorite resource would be anything that Gabrielle Bernstein does, literally any one of her products will inspire you to stay on track.

Solution: Easy times and hard times don’t last forever 

Not to be a downer, but this is an important concept to accept. I hope that the hard times are few and far between for you, but come they will. Just as the hard times will eventually come to an end and be followed by much needed relief. If I am losing you at this point, just stick with me. The point I am trying to make is a simple one. Think of a spiritual practice as the one thing in life that you will always have no matter the circumstances. Whether you are super invested in it or flirt with it on occasion, it will always be there! All the more reason to cultivate a practice so that it is like a familiar friend that you communicate with regularly. Once you have a daily ritual down, add prayer, mantra or affirmation you say when things are going well. When things are lining up for me, I say a silent “thank you.” Then, have a prayer, mantra or affirmation you say when things are not going so great. My favorite is the Lord’s Prayer. I would urge you to do a little research or try a few phrases that feel true for you so that it will stick to you become almost automatic.

3. Pitfall: Overcomplicating, comparing and impatience 

After I wrote that I realized that those three mind fucks could be pitfalls in anything you try to do. These are especially for all you perfectionists in the house, but also true once importance has been placed onto something. When something is important to us, we can approach it in unruly ways. The same is true for a spiritual practice.

Overcomplicating starts to happen when we are trying to learn everything we can by reading all the books ever written about spirituality, trying to follow complicated “rules” or finding that you are spending hours of the day solely focused on your practice. Before you know it you will be burnt out on something that is supposed to invigorate you. So STOP IT (hand slap)! The simple stuff is already hard work!

Comparing happens when we start to become competitive, envious and/or judgmental of another’s spirituality. No one way is better than another and there is nothing to win or a success to achieve. You may have more success in your life as a result of having a spiritual practice, but this isn’t necessarily guaranteed and misses the point. Do I wish that I was as wise as the Dalai Lama? Sometimes, but being someone I am not won’t bring me peace of mind. Feeling comfortable in my own skin (and no one else’s) will.

Impatience occurs when we want results. You may think to yourself “I am doing all this work and why is nothing happening?” This is a time when you may need to take a step back and evaluate your reasons for embracing a spiritual life in the first place. It is so important to be asking yourself what motivates you and what  you value on a regular basis. When working with clients I always have what brought them to me in at the forefront of my mind and I remind them as well when I sense we are getting derailed. The same applies to impatience. When you notice yourself becoming impatient I want to encourage you to do some deep introspection about what you most want and why. The answer may surprise you and the clarity will be priceless.

Solution: Engage with life 

When we are over-analyzing, trying to busy ourselves, focusing on what someone else is doing and judging everything chances are we are not truly engaged. I want you to take a minute to think about what happened to you today. Did you feel good today? Why? Did you feel bad today? How come? What are you thinking at this very moment? Are you distracted or focused? Are you worried or peaceful? Are you hopeful or filled with dread? What are you going to do after you read this? Something that you are looking forward to or something that feels like a chore?

Next I want you to think about how you can become more engaged with life as it is, right at this moment. If you are around people, what is one thing that you can do to connect? It could be as simple as asking them a question (and actually listening to the answer) or telling them how much you enjoy and love them. If you are alone, how can you be more connected to yourself and your surroundings? Maybe you could take a walk in a park or brainstorm possible daily rituals.

Engaging in life is when we put spirituality into practice the most. Are you in?

 

XOXO

Laura

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Healing Process

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When you decides to begin to heal or realizes that certain behaviors you engage in are just not working, it can feel very overwhelming and confusing. It doesn’t have to feel that way. Though each person has had their own unique experience, there are a few steps that can be taken to get started. Think of these steps as the introduction to a book or an anchor to help settle into making a commitment to begin what will be the most rewarding experience your life. I would urge you to think of the following steps as a safe and common sense approach to easing suffering.

1.Healing is a process, not a cure

Often when we are experiencing inner turmoil or emotional distress we just want it to end and NOW! We don’t want to deal with it ever again. Sometimes we may even think that we have a particular wound beat to only have it come back in full force when something triggers us. This approach will only add to our suffering and cause us to continually be disappointed with ourselves, others and the world. This doesn’t mean that a cure is not possible, but the cure will reside within the engagement and trust in the healing process.

I want you to consider shifting from wanting all the pain out of your life to looking at your life as you would a work of art. The creation of a sculpture or a painting does not happen overnight. It is a time consuming process that is not easy all the time, but the end result is something beautiful to behold. I encourage you to think of your life the same way.

2. Consider the source 

We live in an age where we are bombarded by information and the opinions of others. There is way to much to read, watch and talk about that sometimes it sends my head spinning. Is it that way for you? Even cherished loved ones may put in their two cents in some unhelpful ways. My thoughts on this is that most of the time people mean well when they are either putting information out into the world or providing advice, but we need to be very discerning as far as what we take in as truth or fact. I frequently remind my clients to take everything I say with a grain of salt because at the end of the day, they are the expert of their own lives. It could be potentially dangerous if we let false information or the opinion of someone else guide our choices and decisions. Even if you are in a frame of mind where you believe that you cannot trust yourself, it is much safer to refrain of taking action if at all possible and seek out the help of someone you deeply respect or a reliable professional.

Starting now, whenever you receive information or advice I want you to do two things.

  1. Does the source have knowledge or expertise on the subject? We wouldn’t take medical advice from someone without any knowledge of medicine and we most definitely should refrain from taking medical advice from someone who doesn’t take care of their own health. This may sound harsh, but it will save you many a headache. Be grateful for the information, but take only what feels good and helpful to you.
  2. Is the information or person triggering feelings of shame within you? If so, run in the other direction. Shame is a powerful force and often people don’t even realize that they are shaming others because it is such a insidious part of how our society can operate. Nothing healthy has come from feeling shame and taking action from a place of shame. Find something inspirational to read or go walk in nature and clear away what doesn’t serve you.

3. Identify what is not working carefully and thoughtfully 

This is the step that can get overwhelming and it might be wise to seek out professional support. It can be so valuable to get an objective opinion from someone with experience helping others figure out what holds us back from having a joyful life. Of course, you can do it on your own, if you so choose! My thoughts on this are if you have gone six months to a year and things are getting worse or have stayed the same with no relief, seeking expert advice may be in order. Think of it this way, if you are truly committed to healing part of that process is getting help and support from others.

What areas of your life give you the most grief? Make a list and try to be as objective as possible. Having difficulty with finances and budgeting now is by no means a life sentence. It is best to get clear about what is not working because then you can begin the process of learning and deepening your understanding of yourself and what makes you tick. For example, someone may struggle with budgeting not because budgeting is impossible for them, but because they overspend when they are stressed about work. Once that person learns to manage their stress better, the overspending will decrease.

Note: The goal is not to do away with the behavior completely (that may never happen and that is ok) rather to have increased awareness and understanding of why we do the things we do. Keep in mind, I bet there is a ton of stuff you do so well so please notice those areas too.

4. It will feel like you have taken two steps forward, only to take four steps back 

AND THAT IS OK! A healing process is not a place to bring an overachieving and perfectionist mentality. The harsh judgements you may inflict on the process are actually a great indication of wounds you may need to heal. This is REALLY GOOD! You have an opportunity to learn so much about yourself and create a life that is mentally and emotionally sustainable. I have to be honest, I think this is my favorite step. I have been in therapy off and on since I was 8 years old and I still get lost and royally fuck up. Is it challenging and frustrating? Yes! Is it the end of the world? Hell no! When things don’t work out throw yourself a pity party and then read the next paragraph.

Timing is crucial and we cannot control time. This can be painful, but there is no need to suffer unnecessarily when set backs occur. I learn new stuff about myself everyday. Some stuff I like and some stuff makes me cringe. I have found that parts of ourselves are revealed when we are ready to deal with what will get brought up and not before. What I can handle today, I would not have been able to handle 10 years ago. This is true for both difficult experiences and joyful ones. Years ago I would not have had the capability to to cope with certain hardships or have the capacity to receive some extremely rewarding occurrences. Do your very best to avoid feeling discouraged for too long and remind yourself that timing is crucial and we cannot control time. 

5. Create a spiritual practice 

This will help with all of the above. If you don’t consider yourself a spiritual person, I challenge you to keep reading with an open mind. I am a deeply spiritual person and I work with people who do not consider themselves spiritual at all and people who are waaaay more connected to God than I currently am. Typically how I explain spirituality to my clients who feel uncomfortable going there is this: There is a part of you that is wise and makes good choice. Then, there is a part of you that is an asshole. Spirituality is tapping into that part of you that is wise and knows what is best and growing that part so that your inner asshole becomes smaller and smaller. When I provide this explanation that might mark the beginning of a spiritual journey, but it might not. I can work with both.

I want you to focus on finding perspective. There is a great big world out there regardless of how bad a day you are having and how much trauma you have endured, the universe is a constant force to be reckoned with and you have the choice to work with yourself or against yourself. The simplest way to do this is to begin a mindfulness practice. This doesn’t mean you have to meditate or chant, but it does mean given yourself a moment at the beginning and the end of the day (or throughout the day if that works for you) to check-in with the present moment and where you fit in to the world at large. Remind yourself that you are everything and you are nothing all at once and rest in the stillness of that fact.

XOXO,

Laura

 

 

Posted in Personal experiences

Basic Needs

Placeholder ImageThere is a pattern that I have been noticing more and more lately, both with myself and my clients. I have becoming glaringly aware that we rarely attend to our most basic needs. I am not including our need for shelter and economic resources, even though those are the most necessary of our basic needs, rather taking a look at the consequences of ignoring our need for self-care.

How many hours of sleep do you get a night? I get about 8-9, but only because the difference between 7 hours and 8 hours can cause me to fall into an emotionally depleted state where I can’t function. It just isn’t worth it to me. Sure, I indulge in late night TV watching or have to adapt to a few earlier mornings every week, but I always pay a price. I often forget to stress the need for sleep during sessions with my client, even when so many of their symptoms could be tempered by a good night’s sleep. I find myself reflecting on how challenging it will be for a client to address sadness, worry and fears if they are not physically rested. This feedback is not always positively received because I notice that people almost want to tune out the simplest solutions to very complex problems. On some level, I get it.

There are a number of reasons I find that client’s resist the basic needs pep talk, and a number of reasons I don’t attend to making sure I eat healthy and exercise. I want to focus on the top 3 reasons here to both keep things simple and hopefully inspire you to ponder why you might not be taking very good care of yourself and the consequences this could have for your healing path.

Reason #1: Basic Needs are Boring 

Yes, there are more interesting things to do with our time then sleep. Like I said earlier, I will indulge in late night TV watching and binge on Netflix & Hulu. When I am on the run and need to get food quick, I am not tempted to get a salad at a drive-thru. Exercise is not as fun for me as reading a good book. Unfortunately, if we don’t get enough sleep, eat fairly healthy and get our heart pumping at least three times a week, we are not going to be able to accomplish the beloved goals that we have so carefully crafted. I see a massive disconnect here that really needs to be addressed. If we can’t do the simple stuff, how are we possibly going to achieve our more complex desires. What I often notice is that if a basic foundation is not established, there may be some progress (for a time) that will then be followed by considerable backtracking. I can almost guarantee that setbacks you have experienced in your life can be traced back to cutting corners somewhere along the line.

The solution here is patience. Boredom often stems from either wanting circumstances in our life to speed up and/or feeling dissatisfied with the present moment. If we can begin to cultivate a stronger ability to practice patience, we will see the possibilities that will unfold for us, if we can take better care of ourselves in the present moment. If you start taking 30 minute walks, eventually you will notice that you have more energy and will actually end up accomplishing more and feel better.

Reason #2: You treat your body like it is machine

How often do you ignore the urge to pee? We abuse our bodies in so many ways from not flossing our teeth to putting toxins in our body. I am not in the school of thought where we need to only eat organic and never have a doughnut again, but I am saying that you need to breathe, stretch and get some sun. Organic food and cutting sugar from your diet may come someday, but if you are addicted to caffeine and expecting that you will wake up tomorrow cured, you will be setting yourself up for failure. If you can do it, more power to you! Just don’t use this as an opportunity to set yourself up for failure or expect perfection. When we try to go from treating your body like a garbage pail to putting your body on a pedestal, we miss the point. It is all about practicing having more temperate expectations.

The solution here is to not think of your body as the enemy. Easier said then done, I know. Your need to sleep is not your body trying to punish you or prevent you from a night of partying, but it is trying to tell you that your brain needs to rest so that you can deal with stressors. No one (especially yourself) can expect something of you that is just physically impossible. That is torture, not living. This also touches upon how we think about our bodies and how many hateful thoughts you may have when you look in the mirror. You are a human being, not an Ad depicting what a body should be doing.

Reason #3: There is a disconnect with your priorities

This reason has some overlap with the first two, but there are also some important points to be made about what you value. When we are struggling emotionally, often the belief systems that we have been creating since childhood create a blueprint that dictates the choices you make and what is important to you. Unfortunately, the blueprint can have very faulty designs that can cause a lot of chaos and drama if we don’t have clarity about them. Basically think of it as there being a dish you are cooking, but the recipe is flawed, so the result is not necessarily going to taste good or may be an entirely different dish all together. Say that you don’t like your job and really want another one and while you’re at work you are constantly thinking about how much you don’t want to be there, but instead of looking for another job you spend all your free time playing video games. I would tell you that it looks like your priorities are thinking negatively about your job and playing video games, not finding a new job. That may be blunt, but it is true. The way you choose to use your time is what will formulate your blueprint.

The solution is to make sure that if you truly want to make changes in any facet in your life, to make sure that your actions support this. If we conceptualize with basic needs (but really you could do anything with this) if you are wanting more emotional stability you need to make sure you are taking care of your body. If you find that you are anxious all the time and only getting four hours of sleep, it is going to be very difficult to get a handle on your worries if you are on edge because you are sleep deprived. This solution is simple, but not easy. I can promise you this though, if you can focus on your basic needs for the next week over everything else your quality of life will improve drastically. Those lofty goals will start to become a reality and you will just feel so much better.

Final Thoughts 

I know this was a long one, but so essential. Acceptance truly is the first step to make any changes, even when it comes to basic needs. So please accept the fact that you don’t get enough sleep, eat ice cream every day and haven’t exercised in five years. It is ok. You are ok. This is just the starting off point for something greater. Lot’s of love and luck to you.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Acceptance

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“I’m so pathetically intense. I just can’t be any other way.”

-Sylvia Plath

I have found, through trial and error, that acceptance is the first step to take if you want to improve your life.  I’ve known this on an intellectual level for many years, but to actually practice acceptance on an emotional level has been new, and daring territory for me. Daring in the sense that once I fully accept myself, it is likely much of the anxiety and neuroticism that has informed my personality will be no longer. That is me hope.

A few days ago, I was struck with the realization that the basis of my self-loathing has everything to do with my disappointment and the judgement of my mental illness. I have suffered for a long time now, often for self-imposed reasons. All the bad decisions that I have made, and the consequences of those decisions have been burdens I have carried have made me tired. Bone tired. So there was nothing left to do but dare to truly accept myself and not just the likable qualities, the dark shit parts.

I have often felt that my emotional, intense nature made me easy to dislike. What once drew people to me, becomes that which I am most criticized. I feel things in extremes and this has been both a blessing and a curse. During the past few years, I see that there is another way and that there is pride in practicing restraint and achieving a “middle ground” and on some days I can, but not most days. I’m working on it! I do see that on those days when I allow myself to be within the intensity and (yikes!) demonstrate some self-love, the result is what I imagine acceptance to feel like. An inner sense of peace, stillness, pray-filled quiet and a sliver of protectiveness. Then the anger quickly follows. It may not be directed towards anyone or anything in particular, rather a generalized sense of low-grade rage and regret that this took so long. Then I cry with equal parts of sadness and relief that something is finally stirring within. I don’t need to be any other way, and fuck anyone who will tell me any different.

If I were to prescribe a course of treatment to anyone suffering emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually, the first step would be finding what acceptance would feel like to you. What would you see in the mirror? What would your thoughts be? How would you be different? What new experience would you have? How would your relationships change?

I cannot stress enough how necessary acceptance is to any healing path. I can state confidently that if you try to make a change before you have accepted yourself fully, the change will not stick long-term. You will learn and grow, but something will happen that will send you back to shame, guilt, and fear. So put your baggage down and just sit with it, let it be in the same room with you, without trying to run in the other direction or distract yourself. See what happens.

My hope is that you will experience joy, open-heartedness, security, beauty and comfort within your own skin. Learn to be wise & disciplined. Practice simplicity, fairness and discernment. More on this later…