If you were human...

Sometimes it is really hard to make changes and pay attention to the inner critic and fight back to it when necessary, and sometimes you just have to face it and realize you totally dropped the ball for a while.

Sometimes you realize you were just a total asshole to someone who didn't deserve it.

Sometimes you were trying your best to apply all the great spiritual lessons you'd been learning, and still things went horribly awry.

At these moments -- and, let's be honest, probably every moment when you realize you've f'ed up in some way -- when you notice the self-berating kicking in, it can be really helpful to use some variation of this wonderful little phrase:

Yeah, if I were human, I might fuck things up sometimes.
Yeah, if I were human, I might occasionally hurt someone else's feelings, and have to apologize.
If I were human, I might not live up to the expectations of perfection that I sometimes hold.

It's a lovely way to just lay off beating yourself up about it. You can forgive your imperfection -- even embrace it, or at the very least acknowledge it. You may have to take more steps -- make an apology, clean up a mess, work more diligently next time. But at least admitting your humanity takes you off the hook of being perfect. And saying it this way, "if I were human," -- how can you help but laugh? 

And that's a huge key in any self-improvement or relationship-improvement endeavor: a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself. Embrace the humility of fucking up and admitting it without taking it to the extreme that you are a worthless worm. You're just human. Wonderfully, fantastically, and flawed human.

A Sense of Belonging

Some time ago, a woman said to me, “thank you for including me” after we’d been hanging out for about 45 minutes. This was an event where I knew maybe 2 people going in, but I met several others throughout the course of the 3 or 4 days of the event, and by the last day – the day of this comment – I was taking a break from the event, sitting at a table across from the main room, where more and more people who were equally tired of the event trickled out of the room and towards the tables. We were having a lively conversation – everyone sharing and making jokes, and explaining why they, personally, could not take another minute of this event. So it never occurred to me to include or exclude anyone. And, although I was the first one at the tables, I certainly did not feel ownership of the space, or like I could tell anyone to go away or come here or anything. I thought it was an interesting comment, and very sweetly stated. I cannot speak for where the speaker of this comment was coming from, what she meant or what she was thinking, but it made me think of how often we can either feel like the odd one out or be wonderfully obliviously involved in the goings-on, but rarely do we say anything about it one way or the other.

Speaking that type of simple, direct, unembellished gratitude has the potential to really take us places. It fixes our attention on something good. And that is the basis of a gratitude practice. Finding little moments to be grateful for – whether expressed to another person, or simply in one’s journal, or just a mental note, or whispered into the ear of your beloved pet – helps recalibrate us to looking for what is working and good in our lives. Take peek back on the last blog post if you haven’t already http://bayareashrink.blogspot.com/2013/10/what-do-you-like-about-yourself-right.html . I think the flipside of how hard it is to say what we like about ourselves without fear of seeming boastful is also that we have a culture of downplaying whatever good there is in our lives. Think for a moment about sometime someone was called lucky (in whatever words and for whatever reason) and how quickly they downplayed it – expressing their appreciation for others involved, or making a joke about the consequences that came along with it. I sound like I want no one to ever be modest or to give acknowledgment to others, so let me give an example. I heard some women talking about hair and one of them said something about how she thought her friend’s hair was lovely and that friend laughed and made a sarcastic joke about how “frizzy hair was just SO awesome.” I don’t know for sure, but my guess is the friend who received the compliment was too uncomfortable with positive attention or attention at all, perhaps.

So, yes, let’s keep it within reason, but let’s practice taking in compliments and allowing them to register – even if you don’t believe it’s true, allow for a moment that the person who said it might believe it is true. Let’s consider possibly speaking little appreciations like, “thank you for being so helpful today,” to the customer service rep. Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a day looking for opportunities to try to make anyone you come across smile? And wouldn’t it be fun to allow someone else to make you smile from time to time?

And I’m telling you, this particular aspect of gratitude is way beyond just gratitude – it’s feeling a sense of belonging in the global community.

"What do you like about yourself right now?”

Ever notice how hard it is to express feeling good about yourself about anything? Do you have echoes of someone saying, “nobody likes a showoff,” or “it’s rude to be boastful,” or something in that flavor? It’s true that boastful people can be boring, and arrogance is not the greatest quality, but what about the run-of-the-mill folks who have fluctuating self-esteem and a powerful inner critic? How are they supposed to express a moment of positive self-esteem?

There are so many things that contribute to how we feel about ourselves, that I am not even going to attempt to write a single blog post about how to increase self-esteem. What I am writing about, however, is that for those people who do not belong in the narcissistic and arrogant category, it has to be clear that saying how great you feel about something about yourself does not diminish anyone else – not for one minute. I think we got the message at some point that we can’t even say “I’m a good speller,” without fearing that we’d be making someone with dyslexia feel badly about him or herself. How awesome would it be if we were able to say, “I like ____ about myself!” and then turn to our friend and ask them, “what do you like about yourself right now?”

Compassion Intentions

I'm going to offer some practices that come from the various years I spent studying Buddhism. I was actually taught these way back, over 20 years ago, and they remain as relevant and valuable as ever. One note I want to make clear: these words are not magic or mystical -- they won't make anything happen. They are merely a means to focus your mind and your heart and your body to cultivate goodwill and direct it. So it will probably have zero effect if you just say them and wait for something to happen outside of you. Say the words, savor what they mean to you, imagine your heart expanding, and be present to the phrases as you say them and you may find transformation happening -- but it has to come from you. Also, you may say the words out loud or silently to yourself, whatever makes you happier. Bear in mind that these are practices that some folks do daily for 20 years or more, so, if you like it, don't give up on it if you don't notice much after just a few tries. This is a discipline and it takes work, and it's a worthy endeavor to develop greater compassion for self and others. Enjoy!

Lovingkindness or Metta Practice
This is a Buddhist practice that I find is helpful for everyone (non-Buddhists as well). It's a way of focusing thoughts and opening the heart and generating compassion, lovingkindness towards self and others. You start saying the series of 4 phrases, directing them to yourself, for you're in a much better position to offer compassion to others when you have filled yourself with compassion for yourself. You say the series of four phrases 3 times, slowly, breathing deeply and imagining loving energy -- maybe a color or just light -- emananting from your chest/heart, and radiating around you. Take your time with it, drink it in, and then move on to expand the energy by saying the same 4 phrases again, this time directing them towards someone you find easy to love -- a partner, a pet, a friend, a family member, a role model -- and again do the series of four phrases 3 times. Take your time with this again, feeling it in your heart, feeling or imagining the energy expanding and radiating out to the loved one. Progressively expand the circle that you offer these phrases to, starting with someone it's easy to love, then progress to offer it to someone you feel neutral towards (like a cashier, a neighbor, the mail carrier), then challenge yourself to offer lovingkindness to someone you're not that crazy about, and -- if you feel ready and it would not be detrimental to you -- try offering lovingkindness to someone who has wronged you. Keep doing it, expanding it more and more every time. If it's not ripe yet for you to offer it to those who've wronged you, no problem. Don't beat up on yourself -- in fact, offer yourself some lovingkindness for knowing your limits. Try imagining this color/light of compassion that you are generating from your heart as a cloud or bubble and picture it expanding to include yourself as well as everyone on your street, in your town, in your state/province, country, hemisphere, and the whole globe and beyond, if you like. There are many variations on the exact phrases, and I have modified them from the way I was first introduced them so that they are all in the positive (as opposed to "may I be free from...") because I believe our unconscious mind responds best to statements in the positive.

May I live in safety
May I live with comfort and ease
May I be healthy
May I live in peace

May you live in safety
May you live with comfort and ease
May you be healthy
May you live in peace
(3x per person, group, etc)

May we all live in safety
May we all live with comfort and ease
May we all be healthy
May we all live in peace
(3x, or as many times as you want, as broad as you like) 

Below are some variations on the phrases:
"May I be free from danger." "May I have safety" "May I be free from fear." 
"May I have mental happiness."  "May I be happy" or "May I be peaceful" or "May I be liberated." 
"May I have physical happiness. " "May I live with healthfulness," "May I be healed," "May I make a friend of my body," "May I embody my love and understanding." 
"May I have ease of well‑being. " "May I live with ease," "May lovingkindness manifest through­out my life," "May I dwell in peace."
Find what speaks to you.

The following is a prayer or intention that I find is so very helpful when there is any feeling of hesitancy to offer lovingkindness to anyone. When there is resentment or there are hard feelings -- even with feelings of hate -- it can be the hardest thing to get it to let us go. We can have the greatest of intentions, but sometimes the anger is just right there below the surface and we find ourselves sick with it, and stuck with it. I find the following phrases come in so handy at those times. try saying the phrases below to yourself

For all the ways I have harmed others
Knowingly or unknowingly
In thought, word or deed
Because of fear, anger or ignorance
I ask for forgiveness
As much as is possible in this moment

For all the ways I have been harmed by others
Knowingly or unknowingly
In thought, word or deed
Because of fear, anger or ignorance
I offer forgiveness
As much as is possible in this moment

For all the ways I have harmed myself
Knowingly or unknowingly
In thought, word or deed
Because of fear, anger or ignorance
I forgive myself
As much as is possible in this moment

Again, think of this as an intention -- inclining the mind and heart towards forgiveness. This is not about perfection and performance and getting it done. It's a practice. Keep at it. Think of that Buddhist truism that holding on to anger at another person is like holding a burning coal in your hand and waiting for the other person to get burned. You're the only one who suffers by holding on to anger. I know this is often easier said than done, just be willing to have the intention to forgive and let go of the anger because you love yourself so much you are willing to try to be free of that suffering. 

Cult References

I forgot to list my bibliography for all the cult information. Apologies! Here it is:

Galanter, M., (1999). Cults: Faith, healing and coercion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hassan, S., (2000). Releasing the bonds: Empowering people to think for themselves. Massachusetts: Freedom of Mind Press.

Hassan, S., (1990). Combating cult mind control. Vermont: Park Street Press.

Herman, MD, J., (1992). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.

Hochman, J. (1990, April). Miracle, mystery and authority: the triangle of cult indoctrination. Psychiatric Annals, 179-197.

Hunter, E., (1998, Fall). Adolescent attraction to cults. Adolescence. 33: 131, 709-714.

Kornfield, J., (1993). A path with heart: A guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life. New york:

Langone, M., ed., (1993). Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York: W.W. Norton.

Levine, S., (1999, June). Youth in terroristic groups, gangs, and cults; The allure, the animus, and the alienation. Psychiatric Annals. 29: 6, 342.

Lifton, R. Criteria for thought reform. Thought reform: The psychology of totalism, chapter 22 (Chapel Hill, 1989). The future of immortality, chapter 15 (New York 1987) taken from http://ex-cult.org/General/lifton-criteria, retrieved February 9, 2003.

Martin, P. (1993). Post-cult recovery: assessment and rehabilitation. In Langone, M. (Ed.) (1993). Recovery From Cults. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Myers, D., (1994). Module 16: Indoctrination and inoculation. In “Exploring social psychology.” New York: McGraw-Hill.

Shaw, CSW, D. (1996). Traumatic abuse in cults: An exploration of an unfamiliar social problem. http://www.luckymojo.com/esoteric/religion/hinduism/trabcultds.txt Viewed August 29, 2011

Singer, M., (with Lalich, J.), (1995). Cults in our midst: The hidden menace in our everyday lives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Tobias, M., and Lalich, J., (1994). Captive hearts, captive minds: Freedom and recovery from cults and abusive relationships. California: Hunter House.

www.trancenet.org. trancenet.org website pages: http://www.trancenet.org/groups/faq/faqcm.shtml and http://www.trancenet.org/groups/faq/faqrecover.shtml. Retrieved August 26, 2002
www.ex-cult.org Retrieved August 26, 2002

thoughts and feelings

I've been listening to the audiobook of Geneen Roth's book Women, Food, and God. [[If you don't know, I am a big fan of audiobooks, and have found that listening to them consistently over the past 2-3 years, I have changed my brain enough that I retain the information gleaned from auditory learning so much better than I ever did before. But that's an entirely different subject. Today's subject is taken from something she said.]] I'm paraphrasing, but she said something like: "feelings happen in the body, reactions happen in the mind." 

I like what she's saying. It makes me think of what I've been telling my clients for years -- that we can, with practice, slow down enough to separate our physical experience of feelings in the body from the interpretations our mind makes about them, and from the reaction that we have that says we have to jump into action and "fix" something.

When we do this, we discover that there's nowhere to go, nothing to do, and certainly nothing to "fix." Being simply here and now, in the present moment, with the feelings whatever they may be, is all that is called of us. If we can pay attention to the physical sensations -- because feelings do happen in the body -- and quiet the thoughts that come with them, we can just be with the physical sensations until they subside. Or give them the stretch they are calling for, or move around until they release.

I actually had a terrible reminder of this last week. I got the worst kind of surprise from my tax preparer and went spiraling into a tizzy about everything -- EVERYTHING. I got a wonderful, gentle reminder from my friend Lisa who simply said I didn't have to make a big story about this, that I could determine what it means. 


Oh, yes. I can decide what it means. Yes, it was a bad surprise, but it doesn't have to mean the spiral of disaster that I had come up with. It could just be a new challenge, something I'm ready for, and I could even, possibly, be grateful for it. 

So, take that idea into consideration. Next time you have an upset, see if you can locate it in your body and just be with it and let go of the thoughts and interpretations and all those ideas that tell you you need to get on the phone or send a strongly worded email or that you have to start selling everything you own, or whatever the thought is of how you "need" to do something to "fix" it. Just be with the weight on your chest, or the tightness in your shoulders. Stretch, breathe into the spot. Bring peace to the crazy spots. Even if you do ultimately take some action, you'll be in a wiser spot to decide what is needed if you've attended to the strong emotional and physical stuff before acting.
I just wanted to have a little follow-up after sharing all that information about cults.

I decided to share it because I did do a ton of research and, over the years, have discovered that most of the people who contact me for help in this area are not in California, so I can't be their therapist. (I'm licensed in California, so I can only treat those in California). It seemed selfish of me to hold onto that information without freely offering it to those in need. I hope that the information I shared over the past few months will be helpful to them and to their therapists.

Personally, I'm ready to stop saying that cults are my specialty. And it's not because I don't know a ton about them, but it's because I realize that the cult issue is the wrong terminology for what I really want to address and help people with. I want to support people in becoming free from the tyranny of mean self-talk. This is particularly pronounced in anyone who has ever been in a cult, a fundamentalist religion, or any other type of controlling relationship -- be it a one-one-one romantic involvement, a family-of-origin situation, or any other. Because it is that nasty, mean, hypercritical voice that one has internalized from those controlling environments that keeps you controlled.

In milder forms, it's just the inner critic. And everyone has one.

So, that's what I want to focus on: increasing the self-love on this planet, and turning down the volume of the judgmental voice. We can make friends with the inner critic at some point, but only after dis-identifying from it -- in other words, knowing yourself as something more than just your inner critic.

That's why mindfulness and meditation are so important. We'll talk more about that later.