One of my favorite yoga teachers, David Magone, talks of turning obstacles into opportunities. It’s uncanny how you don’t really have to wait to get psyched to deal with something because an obstacle is a motivator in and of itself. That very roadblock will jump start change and push you into learning new skills and ways of being with yourself and in the world.
If you practice yoga, you have probably experienced numerous frustrating times while learning a new pose. Even more annoying are those experiences of approaching a tried and true pose and finding it challenging. Both are easy to view as obstacles. Yet, wouldn’t the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you do finally get it be marred if there were nothing to overcome? What adds to these kinds of experiences power is a combination of renewed knowledge, some might call it faith, in your ability to conquer ignorance and fear, with a sense of mastery and appreciation for your potential. That heady brew of thoughts, feelings, and new neural pathways in the brain prime you to be more open to life and whatever challenges present themselves in the future.
In Hinduism, Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is known as the remover of obstacles. But you don’t need to be a god, or invoke one, to practice thinking differently and turn roadblocks into pathways. (On the other hand, if you would like a little assistance, you may want to look at the mantra section and try out: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha, which specifically invokes Ganesh’s power/energy in removing obstacles. Mantras are not magic, even though they may seem a little woo-woo. They may work by auto-suggestion. Repeat a concept 108 times a day for 40 days and it is bound to influence you.)
One of the most difficult hindrances, is the challenge of accepting what seems undesirable, or even abhorrent. Ultimately, there is no trick or specific technique to transforming what is seen as horrible into a benefit; but, by choosing to think differently, in time, shift happens. Here are some tried and true affirmations that can help you re-program your brain.
Everything is happening for my highest good.
This challenge will bring me unexpected benefits.
Not only can I stand what I don’t like, I can use it to transform myself.
Everyone is my teacher.
Right this moment, I am handling things.
Gandhi was right: I can be the change I want to see.
Lest you think this is a lot of hooey, current brain research shows we can actually build new neural pathways in the brain by thinking and acting differently. The old pathways don’t disappear, they fade away, but not completely. With any new stressful situation, they reassert themselves. That’s why, even if you have been sober for twenty years, some cataclysmic life event can make you think of taking a drink. Similarly, if you have post-traumatic stress and you face a new stressor, it’s as if all the old demons have come home to roost. (Of course, you now have new reserves of strength that make choosing wisely a bit easier.)
After reading that, you might wonder, “Why bother?” The compelling reason is that you not only build emotional muscle by re-training your brain, body, and emotions, you strengthen it for any future onslaught. Not to mention the good feelings that come from self-mastery, self-determination, and self-nurturing, all of which are crucial in starting and maintaining these transformative practices.
While cognitive restructuring, a fancy name for changing your thoughts, is essential, it is also very helpful to have physical and spiritual practices to help support your journey. The physical components of good self-care are, essentially: exercise, nature, a healthy diet, some daytime rest, and enough sleep. The spiritual aspects might include: prayer, meditation, mantra work (see the chapter on Mantras), walking a labyrinth, journaling, gratitude practices, music (listening, playing, singing), nature, joining a sangha, attending religious services, volunteering,
Acceptance can be very difficult because it is all too easy to block it with internal demands. People shouldn’t act that way, life should be fair, I shouldn’t have to deal with this, I can’t stand this, The sooner you dispute some of these unhelpful, but fairly ingrained beliefs, the sooner you will enjoy the peace that comes with accepting what you don’t like, respect, or want in your life.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Archives for 2012
“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
Intuition is like wisdom, it builds over a lifetime. While people generally have no trouble enlisting their intellect to make decisions, using intuition is slipperier and more elusive. Western culture typically trains us to trust our brains and distrust other ways of knowing, which can be very limiting. Intuition is the dynamic blend of knowledge from all sources, not only intellectual and historical. Your body, and each of your five senses, remembers things on a cellular level that resist description and purely cerebral understanding.
Intuition is multi-faceted, comprehensive knowing. It is the synthesis of wisdom, physical experiences, your own nature, personality, spirit, and myriad other ways life gets processed that defy understanding. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to fully comprehend something to employ it.
The following are a trio of techniques to enhance your relationship with your inner guru. With practice, you will come to trust and rely on your intuition, make better decisions, and increase your self-confidence.
TRAIN yourself to hear that knowing voice, the repository of your life’s experiences on all levels.
Practice deeply listening to your intuition and sitting with whatever comes up. You may not be ready to act, but you can be aware.
Each time you tap into your gut feelings you enhance the communication between your conscious and unconscious mind.
The goal is to appreciate this holistic way of knowing, even though you may never understand it fully.
TRUST in the mystery, as you allow messages from your brain, heart, and gut to converge and guide you.
Consciously choose to have faith in yourself. This radical choice grounds you more deeply into your unique ways of being in the world.
Develop appreciation for your inner wisdom. In time, acting on your intuition will become second nature.
TRIAGE. Sit with a question until solutions appear. They will.
Be patient, not every situation requires immediate attention.
Some things are like tea, they need to steep for a while.
Waiting can be like a buried seed in winter. It appears to be unproductive, but it’s gathering steam to burst forth and flower.
Whatever you decide, don’t ignore the whisper or the roar. It’s very easy to push these tendrils of intuition back underground, as fears trigger suppression of that inner voice. The fear might be of the unknown, of taking a chance, of trusting oneself rather than others, of upsetting your status quo, of failure, of success, of standing up for oneself, of what others might think, of disappointing someone, etc. All conspire to keep you from following your gut. They are just distractions from betting on yourself and life. It’s not about playing it safe, it’s about living fully, which is different for everyone. In “Romantics Anonymous,” a sweet little French film, the male lead says he was incessantly told by his father, “Let’s hope nothing happens to us.” It may be amusing in the movie, but it’s a recipe for a very constricted experience of life. (See “No Mistakes, Only Lessons” chapter.)
All too often, the things you ignore come back to bite you. The bite may manifest as interpersonal conflict, work issues, depression, health problems, anxiety, avoidance, inner dissonance, addiction, suicidal thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. It takes courage to listen to that inner teacher and act on what you hear. Sometimes, the immediate result doesn’t feel good. There will probably be some emotional, behavioral, and life changing consequences since intuition is typically activated when an important decision needs to be made. Don’t mistake unpleasant, scary, or threatening fall-out as proof you shouldn’t have listened to your inner GPS. It’s just your body, mind, and spirit adjusting to something new. These repercussions might last minutes, weeks, or years, depending on how many aspects of your life were affected by your decision and to what degree.
In our culture, patience is not a virtue it’s practically obsolete. Buck the tide. Be gentle and tolerant with the time it takes to make changes and adjust to them. Practice meditation and yoga to cultivate the art of sitting with frustration and not knowing. As you do, you will become more comfortable with allowing growth and change to unfold in their own good time, rather than forcing them into some rigid or limited idea of the only options you can see now. (See “Responses To Get Over It Already.”)
Another useful technique is to use your body as a way to connect more deeply with your intuition. When you have a sense of something being right, or not right for you, go inside and find where you feel that physically. Is it in your chest? Your gut? Your lower back? Some people use this as a short cut to intuitively knowing what they don’t want to do. For example, you may say yes to something and immediately get a pain in your neck. With a little practice acknowledging that pain, you can say no to what triggers it. That may require some assertiveness skills, especially learning how to disappoint someone tactfully and with resolve.
What might interfere with listening to your intuition? Mindless activities, or anything done in a rote, unconscious way, like addictions. The purpose of all addictions, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, is to push unpleasant thoughts and feelings out of your conscious awareness. So, if you have been entrenched in an addiction, or any other obsessive-compulsive behavior, this work may seem daunting. In time, as you deepen and strengthen your recovery, you will begin to hear your intuitive voice. It’s a slow process, so be patient. If you haven’t heard it for years, it will be a faint whisper. Later, as you develop more trust for your inner guidance, that little voice will get louder and louder, until it is almost impossible to ignore. Making decisions becomes easier with this deeper synergy between your heart, mind, and gut.
What you appreciate grows. Be grateful for your ability to sense situations, people, and your path. If you can only tune in to the tiniest whisper, be happy with that. If you are not ready to let your inner guru guide you, just wait. Eventually, you will come to trust your intuition and reap the rewards of following it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
What makes asking the questions and working on their answers such a courageous act is its potential to shatter our status quo. Yet, it is precisely by plumbing our depths that we move towards greater self-compassion, self-knowledge, and self-actualization.
Abandoning the idea that there is one, right answer is also crucial, as many paths may lead you to the same place. Different answers are just better suited to different ages and stages. By consciously detaching from seeking the one, perfect answer, you can let the ebb and flow of changing thoughts, feelings, situations, and sensibilities encourage greater openness and flexibility in your journey.
Naturally, your responses to these questions will shift and morph with time. Thinking about your answers grounds you through increased awareness of thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Bolstered with self-knowledge, you are more likely to make better choices.
As you look at the following list, it is helpful to have an almost playful attitude. They may be serious questions, but you can approach them in a more light hearted way. Be open to devoting a minute, a day, or a week to each. Alternatively, you can intuitively pick the one that speaks to you now and allow your mind to freely meander around it. As you do, you might find it useful to write down what comes up. It may be a thought, bodily sensation, memory, or feeling; all are worth exploring. Another illuminating option is to come back to the same question later and answer it again, without first looking at your previous responses. This can be especially enlightening and surprising if you have waited months between writing, as it shows you, in your own words, how you have grown.
If you are part of a self-help group you may want to choose a question and allow everyone to share their responses within the safety of a deep listening paradigm, where each person speaks without interruptions or comments from others.
Think of the questions as catalysts to greater self-knowledge. Choose a way to work with them that speaks to you. Running through the list like a locomotive may capture immediate uncensored reactions, while savoring each one separately gives you time to mine it for all its potential. Feel free to add any other questions that occur to you.
1.What makes my spirits soar?
2. What makes me feel safe?
3. What reliably improves my mood?
4. How do I show myself compassion?
5. How do I nurture myself?
6. What, or who, helps me unburden myself?
7. With whom do I share my deepest thoughts and feelings?
8. What parts of my shadow am I projecting on to others? (You might want to read the Demons chapter for more on this Jungian concept.)
9. What do I do every day to replenish my spirit?
10. How do I support myself: emotionally, spiritually, financially, physically, intellectually, socially?
11. How often am I truly living in the moment?
12. What are my hot buttons, and how do I allow other people to press them?
13. How do I want to approach the challenges in my life?
14. What am I practicing? This could be a formal practice like yoga or meditation, or an informal one, like taking a daily walk.
15. What am I unconsciously practicing, my automatic behaviors and knee-jerk reactions?
16. Assuming I get to choose my thoughts, what would I like to think about myself, work, family, home, body, friendships, nature, and spirit?
17. What can I do to increase my financial stability? (You may want to check the book: “Your Money or Your life” by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Telford.)
18. With whom do I spend my time? Is it gratifying?
19. Am I comfortable with solitude?
20. How do I relax?
21. Whose company nourishes my spirit?
22. What makes me laugh?
23. Am I paying attention to everything that is going well in my life and taking time to feel grateful?
24. How often do I consciously choose thoughts that help me feel positive, balanced, or peaceful?
25. How can I anchor myself in this moment?
26. Am I creating the life I want?
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Panoramic awareness is based on a certain amount of trust, or optimism. Basically nothing is regarded as a failure or as dangerous. Rather, whatever arises is experienced as part of a creative and loving relationship toward oneself.
There are no mistakes. All of life is a blessing given to us to learn from.
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
From a very young age we are trained to seek out and notice everything that is wrong. Beginning with our earliest days in school, we are told how to correctly spell, add, subtract and multiply. This vigilance for mistakes can be extremely helpful; however, there are times when it is inhibiting, like when the art teacher corrects our drawing, or the music teacher tells us the song we wrote is too weird. Of course, not all teachers take that approach, but if they do, it cramps our creativity. Picasso’s lopsided faces or Loudon Wainwright’s lyrics never would have gotten “A”s.
If we choose a profession like medicine, law, accounting or plumbing, we are again trained to seek out and eliminate what is wrong. Of course, you want your dentist or electrician to notice what’s amiss and fix it, but perfectionism in all areas of life is stifling. If you think you have to do everything perfectly from your first attempt, you won’t try many new things, and your days will be less rich.
On a more global level, we watch or read the news and learn of wars, floods, financial collapses, famines, and, once again, focus on everything that is broken or hurting.
It’s no wonder we see ourselves as lacking and needing repair.
What if you took the radical approach that you are perfect just the way you are, right now? Yes, you, with all your thoughts, feelings, talents, yearnings. You are whole, complete, and fine just as you are. You don’t need to lose weight, make more money, have more friends, or meet your dream partner to feel good and peaceful in yourself right this minute. You can choose to go against all that training of looking for defects and focus on the positives. In a way, this is similar to a gratitude practice, though in an evolved gratitude practice you can be just as thankful for the things you don’t enjoy as for those you love, since you assume everything is happening for your highest good.
By thinking you are complete as you are and you don’t need anything or anyone to make you better, you open your heart to your own sweet self, just as you are right this minute. You may not like everything about yourself or your life but you can work on accepting things and people as they are, including you.
Instead of doing a daily or hourly inventory of what’s wrong, look for what is right. By seeing everything as part of your journey, even when you you don’t like it, you can practice radical acceptance.
Here’s a different twist, try noticing what is upsetting as a way of reevaluating your judgment about your perception. It is a lot easier to accept things we deem difficult or unpleasant when we stop telling ourselves they should be different. Clearly, we don’t control the universe; but, we can learn to think differently about everyone, including ourself. By focusing on what is going well, and you can choose to view life positively if you change your attitude, you will feel more bouyant, open, and joyful. In the meantime, by embracing what you have previously shunned you welcome all life’s experiences, not just the puppies and rainbows.
Why not assume you are here for the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek said. Practice a bit of Buddhist mindfulness, or yogic witnessing, and observe without judging or evaluating. This doesn’t mean you will welcome a divorce, bad diagnosis, empty nest, bankruptcy, or other big challenges, but you will approach them as opportunities to learn, grow, and experience life in this moment, in this body, on this planet.
We yogis like to say everyone is our teacher. Everyone and everything. Some lessons are very hard and others easy; with practice, you can embrace them all.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
If you are a yogi, Buddhist, or have simply read some chapters on this site, you are probably familiar with the concepts of mindfulness and witness consciousness. While both support an open awareness of what is, any techniques that help root you in the present will bolster your equanimity and strengthen your resilience.
By thinking of your time on earth as a visit you can re-frame your experiences to more easily stay in the now. From there, you can practice some healthy detachment from outcome, the Buddhist idea of letting go of what we think we want in favor of being open to life’s vicissitudes. This offers another approach to leave the evil twins of suffering, also known as craving and aversion, behind.
Whether the time between birth and death is long, medium, or short you can choose to view it as a visit. After all, you are merely a tourist in your body, on earth, right now. This moment is all you have. The past is over and will never come again, the future is simply a concept only having value when it becomes the present; otherwise, it’s just fodder for anxiety.
By thinking of yourself as a visitor, you can open up to seemingly similar situations with fresh eyes. As they say, you can never step into the same river twice. Re-framing your experiences helps build awareness that the river, and life, constantly shift.
A healthy measure of detachment from outcome fosters witness consciousness, the ability to see things more objectively. Of course, humans are designed to view life subjectively; but, it is possible to cultivate some perspective, delaying a knee-jerk emotional response. This nanosecond’s pause often provides enough time to free yourself from a habituated response, allowing you to try on a different approach.
Another helpful technique on the path to greater emotional freedom is to imagine what someone else is thinking and feeling. Unlike empathy, where you feel with another person because you have had a similar experience, this creates an expanded consciousness enabling you to see things from someone else’s perspective. Not an easy task, but one worth practicing.
Experimenting with these new modalities is the only way to know if they will enhance your life and sense of control. You can’t orchestrate everything that happens, but you can choose your attitude about it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
I have always found the easiest way to distinguish sadness from depression is to ask yourself if your overwhelmingly negative, hopeless feelings penetrate every cell of your body. Say yes, and you are probably depressed.
It is natural to think there is a continuum going from sadness to depression, but, actually, there is one continuum for sadness and a separate one for depression. You can be a little sad or deeply sad, a little depressed, or deeply depressed; but deeply sad never equals even a little depressed. They are completely different feelings. Depression is a full body experience, sadness is not.
Sadness is when your gerbil dies but you can still go to work. Depression is when your partner chooses someone over you, and you feel so rotten it is as if every part of your body, mind, and spirit is affected. Depression is bleak, dark and hopeless. Despair rules. On the other hand, you may feel numb, as if nothing is registering on your emotional radar screen.
When you’re depressed there isn’t much that gives you pleasure. If sad, you can still enjoy some chocolate or a beautiful sunset.
It can be helpful to distinguish a few things:
Is your depression from an external source, like a bad diagnosis, big disappointment, divorce, death, or job loss; or, did it develop from an internal concept, self-rating, idea, or state of mind? If your depression was sparked by grief, you may want to deal with that, and assume it is not depression, per se, but another aspect of your reaction to loss.(See the chapters on grief for more on its protean landscape.) Generally speaking, if your depression is linked to an external event it is more likely to respond to treatment fairly quickly. On the other hand, if it came from internal issues you have been wrestling with for years, you may want to consider professional help. Some people respond quickly, while others may take longer. All that matters is taking the first step.
In this day and age, it is easy to think a depressed person needs medication. While there are situations when that is appropriate, in many instances it is not necessary. In Germany, for example, if you go to a psychiatrist with mild to moderate depression he or she will suggest St. John’s Wort. Taking fish oil, and vitamin D3 are also invaluable in lifting your spirits.
Numerous studies have shown that any exercise helps combat depression. Something as seemingly simple as walking, assuming you swing your arms at the same time, actually balances out the hemispheres of the brain, allowing you to think more clearly. In addition, that rhythmic motion helps banish obsessive thoughts that often accompany the blues.
Dietary changes make a difference, especially if you keep your blood sugar levels as stable as possible by not skipping meals, and eating a balanced breakfast. In the early 1800s, when Dr. Samuel Hahnemann was developing his theory of homeopathy, he wrote, before you give anyone any remedy, make sure they are sleeping, eating a balanced diet, and getting some sun. The most basic self-care can have enormous benefits.
Even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing, socializing has been known to soothe feelings of estrangement, isolation, and worthlessness. So, fight the inertia to stay put and make some plans. Meeting someone for tea, or running into people as you do errands, can have a salutary effect.
One thing the research seems to consistently show is how cognitive-behavioral therapy helps change depression-creating thoughts to ones that soothe your emotions and shift your perspective on life. What is less obvious, is how many ways there are to change your thoughts. Many new age books, like “Ask and It Is Given” by the Hicks’ provide numerous techniques for shaping your thoughts and reframing unhelpful perspectives and attitudes to ones that serve you. I am still very partial to Albert Ellis’ classic “How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes, Anything!”
Dr. Ellis would have been the first person to remind you that catastrophizing about one’s mood only makes it worse. If you catch yourself saying how awful it is to feel depressed or how you can’t stand it, remind yourself you can stand what you don’t like. By upping the emotional ante with awfulizing thoughts, you actually increase bad feelings. Yes, they feel rotten, but they won’t last. You can combat pernicious thoughts with the paradoxical, Buddhist, technique of exploring your feelings. By going deeply into what scares you most, you prove how, debilitating as they are, they won’t kill you. This difficult practice, of sitting with extreme discomfort, builds emotional muscle. To support your efforts, try reading or listening to books or lectures by Pema Chodron, a brilliant contemporary Buddhist nun.
On a behavioral level, you can improve your mood by raising endorphins, the naturally occurring feel-good chemicals in the brain. Exercise, yoga, meditation, kundalini yoga, Kapalabhati breath work (find a youTube link), laughing, spending time with children and pets, dancing, singing, playing music, and engaging in something creative (this might be an art or craft project, cooking, baking, furniture making, writing, or decorating), all can jump start your mood, especially if you do them.
To decrease crankiness, try eating mood altering foods like complex carbs, beans, and chocolate. (See Chocolate’s Healing Powers on this site.) It is also a good idea to avoid wine, beer, and liquor since they act as depressants. Drink herbal tea, especially uplifting mint, and calming chamomile. Don’t skip even one meal, as it will lower your blood sugar level and add to your emotional ups and downs. Try eating three meals and two snacks a day. They don’t have to be big portions, just enough to keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
Journaling can be a real refuge when life seems oppressive. Venting, writing poetry, and making gratitude lists all quiet emotional noise, and re-orient your thinking.
You can always make an appointment to talk with a therapist or clergy person. Friends and family may not want to hear how depressed you’re feeling as they find it too threatening, and feel obliged to make you better, even though that’s not their job, and they often don’t know what to say.
Take the Beck Depression Inventory so you can better assess your true psychological state.
BDI link: http://thecenterforcreativeevolution.com/wp-content/sitefiles/~public/test-beck%20depression%20inventory.pdf
If you think you are depressed, or you are having thoughts of suicide, please seek help. There are numerous avenues you can pursue, whether it is calling a counselor, a 24 hour hot line, clergy, or your doctor. Help is there if you want it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang