About wellpsych

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, life coach, facilitator and speaker dedicated to helping people transform their lives and live with joy, integrity and peace. For additional information about my work and experience, click on the "About" tab.

Mindful Moments

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation in mid-coast Maine. A highlight of my trip was a visit to Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park. I’d been anticipating this moment for weeks, setting my sights on this special place to practice taking photos with my new digital SLR camera.

After checking out the scenery, I settled on a spot and unpacked my camera gear. Raising my camera to my eye, I scanned the horizon to capture the perfect shot. Snap, snap! I checked the viewfinder. Not bad, but you can do better! my judgmental-self commanded, as it often does when I’m attempting to master a new skill.

I wanted to let go of this nagging voice. I needed to do what I teach my clients to do. Pause. Breathe. Focus on the moment. Inhale one. Exhale one. Inhale two. Exhale two. By the time I counted to 10, practicing deep belly breaths, my body felt calmer and my mind was clearer, just like the water in this beautiful pond.

Move closer to the water’s edge, a quiet voice within said. No longer searching for the perfect shot, that’s when he magically appeared. Snap, snap!

This is the beauty of mindfulness practice. When we learn to still ourselves despite our many stressors, we open ourselves to see what’s ready to come into view. Clearer and calmer, we observe our world AND ourselves without judgment, and with intentional practice, we learn to let go of anxiety producing thoughts that muddy our mind.

 Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it, wrote spiritualist, Ernest Holmes. So take a look. Pay attention. Pause. Breathe. And if you need a little extra help, try vacationing in Maine (and be sure to pack your camera). But it’d be easier and much more cost-effective to simply download a mindfulness app.

Desire’s Demise

the-embrace-1917.jpg!Large

The Embrace by Egon Schiele

It must be time to spice things up with a hot topic I’ve never written about before. Now I’m no a sex therapist, but recently, three different clients, all beautiful and bright thirty-something women, started their sessions saying,  I’m s-o-o-o embarrassed, the words sticking in their throats. Uncanny! I thought. There must be something in the water. All raised an issue with sexual desire; all were terrified that the flames of passion were dying out and would never return again.

It’s all right; you’re not alone! I said encouragingly, the words sticking in my throat. Could I truly help these women given my lack of clinical training on the subject? I listened compassionately all the while wracking my brain for some useful information other than personal experience. I felt like a game show contestant on Jeopardy trying to come up with the right question before the clock ran out. Ticktock, ticktock…got it. Whew! Who is Esther Perel?

You might not have heard of her. I hadn’t, until another client, an enlightened 30-something dude (who’d actually make a terrific therapist) raved about Perel’s new podcast titled, Where Should We Begin? I googled her after his session. Ge’ez! Her TED Talk, The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship, had over 10 million views. She must be a phenomenal speaker, I thought, and come to find out, she is. Funny, too!

To give you a preview, Perel explains how love and desire both relate and conflict. According to Perel, “Love seeks safety and security, whereas desire thrives on the unknown and unexpected. Both are essential to everlasting love.” states Perel, but she warns that, “Too much we and not enough me can surely extinguish the flames.”

She surveyed people in 20 different countries, asking: “When do you find yourself most drawn to your partners? Not attracted sexually, per se, but most drawn?” Their answers were universal:

  • When she is away, when we are apart, when we reunite. Basically, when I get back in touch with my ability to imagine myself with my partner, when my imagination comes back in the picture, and when I can root it in absence and in longing, which is a major component of desire.
  • When I see him in the studio, when she is onstage, when he’s in his element, when she’s doing something she’s passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him, when I see her hold court (think Dany in Game of Thrones;) Basically, when I look at my partner as radiant and confident.

Now some believe (incluing some researchers) that men don’t have problems with sexual desire no matter how long they’ve been in a relationship. Could that be why my 30-something babes were freaking out? Bunk! Says Kristen Mark, a sex researcher at the University of Kentucky. Mark’s research found that desire has a natural ebb and flow in both men and women. “The longer the relationship goes on the lower the desire gets in men just as it does in women,” states Mark.

So what to do when the ebbs come and flows go? In addition to Perel’s suggestion of creating a sense of longing, Mark’s research points to the following strategies: communicate, even if uncomfortable, focus on meeting your partner’s needs, have sex without desire, and have patience / let time work out the problem. In addition, schedule sex, wear sexy lingerie, and put date night back on your calendar, especially if you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed an amorous evening, a mellow morning, or an intoxicating afternoon with your partner.

Most importantly, remember you’re not alone. Why else would a  TED Talk on sexual desire get over 10 million hits. Here’s the link once again: The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship It’s a perfect activity for date night, that is, before enjoying something even better 😉

 

Blossom

The following is a favorite poem by Dawna Markova, a perfect inspiration for spring…

I will not die an unlived life. 20160323_123902

I will not live in fear 

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

to make me less afraid,

more accessible,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom,

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.

Markova penned these words the night her father died. She wrote so movingly in her book, I Will Not Die An Unlived Life, My tears had turned to ink. The words were a bridge across an abyss my father could not cross.

So often we wait for a significant life event – a death, a diagnosis, a devastating emotional experience – to take a risk and change our lives. Something beyond our control rocks our world and cracks us wide open. I know it did for me. I was 32-years-old. My father died in March. My marriage imploded in April. I lost my job in May. It was the worst spring of my life.

Until that time, I thought I was happy. I was going about my life in the way I thought I should. I told myself, I should get married. I’m 32-years-old. It didn’t matter that the red flags were everywhere. I should drive hard and work 12-hour days. I need to make a lot of money. It didn’t matter that my work wasn’t meaningful. I should act like I have my shit together. What would others think if they really knew how insecure I was?

Day in and day out, I defined myself by a set of unrealistic expectations, working diligently to craft an image of what I thought my life should look like. But “shoulding” on myself wasn’t working; it only kept me stuck and strengthened my facade. If only I’d realized this sooner. But I didn’t until crisis came along.

You may have heard that the word crisis in the Chinese language – wēijī – means “opportunity disguised as danger.” But this is incorrect. The wēi symbol in Chinese does convey the notion of danger, but jī doesn’t mean opportunity. Instead, it means an “incipient moment; a crucial point when something begins or changes”.

My father’s death, along with the death of happily ever after, was an incipient moment for me. Up until then, I ignored a deeper inner voice powered by my emotions and intuition. But after enduring such painful losses, my feelings could no longer be denied; the voice of intuition, no longer masked.

Fast forward 10 years later when I’m 42-years-old. No longer deathly afraid of change, I quit my job in March (despite my lucrative salary), sold my home in April, and boarded a plane in May to circumnavigate the globe. It was the best spring of my life.

Now I’m not suggesting you do the same, unless of course you want to. I’m simply encouraging you to listen to your intuition and pay attention to your feelings instead of waiting for a crisis to force you to change.

It’s hard to change without help, so I encourage you to reach out to a caring therapist or trusted friend who won’t should all over you. And as the seeds of spring go to blossom this year, why not risk your significance and leap into the unknown. For as Anais Nin writes, and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Happy spring!

Haunting History

treeOn my morning walk today, the goons and goblins were out in full glory, Halloween decorations fronting the lawns of my in-town neighborhood. One particular display caught my attention–four faux headstones fronted by skeletons rising up from the ground. One struck a chord. It read, “I’ll be back!”

Oh yeah, I thought, as I reflected on an issue that’s been haunting me for weeks, an emotional wound I buried in childhood, that for the most part, doesn’t wreak havoc on my life anymore. But despite my belief that I’d thoroughly exorcised this demon, come to find out, it still hadn’t vanished completely.

The haunting started a few months ago over a conflict with a friend. She was struggling with her own issue, and to be honest, I didn’t want to hear it. I knew I should be supportive and draw on my inner caregiver, but another part of me, a childish part, felt angry and resentful. I don’t want to help her! I don’t want to prioritize her needs when she’s not paying attention to mine.

I knew these childish thoughts and feelings oh so well. I’d been listening to my internal rants for years. They’d come and go, like ghosts in the night, most often when a friend or lover was caught up in him or herself and seemed indifferent to what was going on with me.

No more, I thought! I must assert my needs and wishes more often. I must stop reacting childishly and choose a different way. Yet despite my desire to do so, I felt fear within my bones. Would I be criticized? Rejected? Or worse yet, abandoned? Of course these weren’t my grown-up thoughts. They’re the thoughts of a vulnerable child. According to Hal and Sidra Stone, founders of the Voice Dialogue method, the vulnerable child within us embodies our sensitivity and fears. Its feelings are easily hurt and it generally lives in fear of abandonment.

Abandonment issues are exacerbated in homes where parents/caregivers were emotionally wounded themselves. Children, being exquisitely sensitive to their surroundings, sense their parents’ unmet needs and typically make a choice, albeit unconsciously, to subjugate their own desires and take on the caretaker role.

The late John Bradshaw, renowned for his books and PBS television programs, concluded that this process is the reversal of the natural order. In his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, he wrote: The caretaker role is strangely paradoxical. In an attempt to secure parental love and avoid being abandoned, the child in fact is being abandoned. Since the child is there for the parent, there is no one to mirror the child’s feelings and drives and to nurture the child’s needs.

To break the spell, we must encounter our fears, both past and present, and face their causes courageously. It’s essential to take a step back, stop re-acting out of anger, and instead, tend to the vulnerable child within us with love and compassionate care. Only then will we see what’s lurking behind our walls of self-defensive. Only then will we be able to communicate our needs in an emotionally healthy way.

Tears will fall first, if we’re willing to feel them, as mourning is required to heal the haunting hurts of our childhoods. In addition, wrote Alice Miller, acclaimed psychotherapist and author of The Drama of the Gifted Child, we must speak out against our mistreatment, confronting our parents in an inner dialogue to discover and validate our real needs, past and present.

Now you may be thinking, “My parents didn’t mean to hurt me.” Of course they didn’t! They were doing the best they knew how. But that doesn’t mean that you and I didn’t endure significant losses, most especially the loss of being who we were meant to be: the loss of our true selves.

Facing the pain that we buried away not only liberates our true selves, but also releases our gentle spirit, the essence of a vulnerable child who knows how to care without caretaking, love without condition, and confront without controlling in order to feel safe. You see, this spirit knows that our vulnerable child is not the only one hiding in the darkness; it recognizes that our loved ones are hiding there too.

There’s so much more I could write about how our personal histories shape our present relationships, but it’s time to conclude with the words of a man whose own history is haunting, whose poetry is healing, and whose music forever lives in our souls…

A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel, or not to feel. What you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what s/he really is. Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending – performing. You get to love your pretense. It’s tropen doorue, we’re locked in an image, an act – and the sad thing is, people get so used to their image, they grow attached to their masks. They love their chains. They forget all about who they really are.

Rest in Peace, Jim Morrison. Rest in truth (even if it scares you) my dearest friends.

Lullaby for Grief

Float down like auleaves20tumn leaves

And hush now

Close your eyes before the sleep

And you’re miles away

And yesterday you were here with me

Another tear, another cry,

another place for us to die

It’s not complicated.

Autumn Leaves by Ed Sheeran

Death is never easy. Comfort is required, not only for the dying, but for loved ones left behind. This incredible song is a lullaby for the dying and a salve for those who live. Listen with love, then linger awhile in your grief. It’s necessary. It’s not complicated.

A dear friend is co-leading a Sacred Grief Retreat November 11-13 in Dahlonega, Georgia.  If you or someone you love seeks solace in a supportive community, learn more at http://www.joycedillon.com/griefandlossretreat.html

Connecting Serendipity

Ahmed, the owner of Désert sans frontière, had agreed to guide me through the Southern Oasis route of Morocco. I was delighted to hand over the reigns to him after three days of traveling alone. The maze, the mayhem, and the men in Marrakech put me on guard, but now it seemed I could relax. After all, the owner of my guesthouse, Riad Attajmil, recommended Ahmed, a certified guide and excellent driver who grew up in a Berber village. We agreed to travel together for two-and-a-half-days before he’d drop me at a desert camp on the edge of the Sahara.dades

That was the plan, but by end of the second day, Ahmed suggested that the plan change. I don’t need to leave tonight. I want to make sure you’re safe, he proclaimed, as we pulled away from Chez Mimi in Dadès Gorge, the most romantic place I’ve ever been.

camelman2Hmmm! I felt my walls go up. Maybe I should stick to the plan? After all, Ahmed was smitten with me. I didn’t know if I could trust him, but on the other hand, I was anxious about fending for myself in the Sahara. (You know, there are snakes and tarantulas in the desert.) And, after all, he wasn’t going to charge me for the extra night, but instead, offer his services to the camp in exchange for room and board.

Go it alone in the desert or risk uncharted terrain with a man? I had fought this battle my entire life, fearing that if I’d let down my guard with another, especially a man, I’d end up hurt or disappointed. But something was very different with Ahmed. A deep connection was emerging between us despite our many differences. It didn’t matter that we were born and raised in vastly different cultures. Our connection was based on authenticity, mutual respect, and value for each others world.

It made no sense to turn him away, and thankfully I didn’t. Something special was about to occur.

(Fast-forward a few hours.) We’re milling around outside Riad Madu, waiting to hit the dunes. I turned to Ahmed who looked perplexed. See that man over there in the Moroccan djellaba, he remarked, the one standing with a woman and child. I know him, but from where? Before I had the chance to help him solve this puzzle, he had stepped away from me and veered in this man’s direction. They spoke softly. I watched intently. They embraced warmly. I smiled from ear-to-ear. Something magical was happening, but what? I couldn’t wait to find out.

After several minutes of chatter between the two of them, Ahmed returned to my side wearing a smile broader than mine. My friend, Saïd and I attended Agadir University at the same time. We both majored in French Literature and attended many classes together. It’s been 17 years since I’ve seen him. Can you believe it? 17 years! After his studies, he left Morocco and took a job teaching in France. He now lives in Amsterdam with his Dutch wife and their daughter, but returns to Morocco for a week vacation every year.

Unbelievable! I thought. If I had stuck to my plan and told Ahmed to leave, Saïd and he wouldn’t have met. They wouldn’t have had the chance to spend hours that night rekindling their friendship, and I wouldn’t have played a part in their reunion.

It was good that they were together that night. It took Ahmed’s attention off of me. That said, it was hard to say goodbye to him the next morning, for I must admit, I was smitten too. But I had a sojourn to continue in Fez and he had a family to return to in Marrakech. But serendipity–it wasn’t ready to leave.

I was sitting at a breakfast table at my guesthouse three days later, enjoying the company of a young woman from Japan. What are your plans today, Mayuko? I asked politely. I’m heading to Chefchaouen, that beautiful blue village in the Rif Mountains, she replied. Me too! I exclaimed. Come to find out, we were both leaving Fez on the 11 am bus with assigned seats next to each other. And, we both had reservations at Casa Perleta, a guesthouse with only 8 guest rooms. Serendipity! I shouted after exchanging itineraries.chaouenmtn

What is serendipity? Mayuko asked.

Serendipity is when life hands you an unplanned surprise, an unexpected happy or beneficial event.

We agreed to meet in the courtyard in 30 minutes, hail a cab together, and spend the day tooling around the “Blue Pearl.” It was a wonderful day, a joyful serendipity!

ahmed+No one knows why and how serendipity happens, but I’m certain that letting go of control is an absolute must. After these two serendipitous events, I felt like something inside me had shifted. I felt freer and less fearful, more trusting and secure.

The dunes of Morocco had opened my mind and a man from the desert had unlocked my heart.