Embracing Fear

By now, it’s likely you’ve seen the beautiful snapshot of a tearful 12-year old black youth, Devonte Hart, and a thoughtful white cop, Sgt. Bret Barnum, hugging during a protest rally in Portland, Oregon. Only moments before the photo was snapped, Devonte was riddled with fear. According to his mother…

He trembled holding a Free Hugs sign as he bravely stood alone in front of the police barricade. Tears rushing from his eyes and soaking his sweater, he gazed upon them not knowing how they would react. After a while, one of the officers approached him and extended his hand. Their interaction was uncomfortable at first. He asked Devonte why he was crying. His response about his concerns regarding the level of police brutality towards young black kids was met with an unexpected and seemingly authentic (to Devonte), ‘Yes. *sigh* I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ The officer then asked if he could have one of his hugs.

Despite his fear, Devonte looked into the eyes of a man who represented danger. Despite his position, Officer Barnum approached this young man in a respectful, caring way. In an instant, healing happened. In a moment, lives were changed.

I write this post, not as political or social commentary. I write to inspire readers to face their fear head on instead of denying its existence. We all feel fear. This emotion is crucial to our survival, as it is for all species. Yet unlike a rabbit that freezes, flees, and soon forgets about the fox that just stalked him, humans can’t always escape the aftermath of a threatening encounter, especially during childhood. It doesn’t matter if the threat is real or perceived, it feels real to us.

If no one is available to sooth our distress or help us understand what’s happening around us, our emotional brain becomes frozen like a rabbit in a sensory fear response. As egocentric children, we often make the threat personal and convince ourselves that we’re the cause. When we do, fear compounds and turns into a terrifying monster. In adulthood, it takes on names like generalized anxiety, PTSD, phobias, obsessive-compulsion, and acute stress. Sometimes our monsters become controlling, destructive, violent or shaming. They often bring harm to our bodies, minds and spirits. They harm others too.

Naturally, we start fearing fear, crazy as that may seem. We learn to minimize fear, discount its power over us, or suppress the overwhelming feelings. We don’t want to remember the source of our trauma and we definitely don’t want to feel vulnerable. Someone might think we’re weak, call us a wimp, or try to push us around. So we learn to avoid feeling fear instead of embracing it.

But not Devonte! No, not this courageous kid who was born addicted to drugs, shot at by age four, and abused and neglected until two loving women adopted him in 2007. Imagine the fear they must have felt as they questioned their capacity to help him heal his emotional wounds. Once again, I quote his mother, Jen Hart…

Through patience, love, good parenting, love, acceptance, and more love, Devonte turned things around.

What a beautiful family. What a courageous child. Together, along with Sgt. Bret Barnum, they show us that fighting and/or fleeing from fear does nothing to heal our pain. But free hugs? I’ll take one any day!

 

 

Overcoming Suffering

The-Comedy-and-Tragedy-Masks-acting-204463_489_381I find it profoundly ironic that a comedic genius like Robin Williams ended his life in such a tragic way. Aristotle, our earliest literary critic, equated comedy with the ridiculous, tragedy with seriousness. Williams’ story of life and death illustrates the paradox of Ancient Greek theater, but it wasn’t until his “final act,” that we, his audience, fully acknowledged the seriousness of his suffering.

Williams was apparently in severe pain, yet the depth of his despair was eloquently cloaked in humor. I recently learned that he donned this mask in childhood to gain the attention of his stern father. One evening, while watching TV together, he saw a side of his father that was totally unfamiliar: a belly-laughing man enthralled by comedian Jonathan Winters. It was then and there, according to Williams, that Winters became his idol, a “Comedy Buddha,” who he’d strive to emulate. But did he do so at his own expense?

Humor — such an incredible salve for many an aching heart. Research now proves that humor can increase feelings of resilience, hope and optimism, but paradoxically, research also shows that humor, especially the self-deprecating brand, can be used to mask feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and depression. Williams wasn’t a stranger to this style of humor, especially when joking about his battle with addiction. He lived with this disease for several decades, and in addition, suffered with severe clinical depression, and possibly, bipolar disorder.

To live is to suffer, wrote Nietzsche. I don’t mean to sound morbid. I’m not a nihilist who believes that suffering is useless. I believe what Helen Keller believed: All the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.

Suffering, in its original sense, meant “undergoing.” Overcoming suffering requires a prolonged commitment to face what feels insurmountable and heal whatever ails us so that we might become more compassionate and complete as human beings. The 13th century poet, Rumi, encourages us with his words…Don’t turn away, Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you. 

When we look at the bandaged place without resistance or self-criticism, we experience a “progressive softening”, writes Christopher Germer, Ph.D. In his book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, he defines five stages of acceptance: 1) Aversion—resistance, avoidance, rumination; 2) Curiosity—turning toward discomfort with interest; 3) Tolerance—safely enduring; 4) Allowing—letting feelings come and go; 5) Friendship—embracing, seeing hidden value.

I don’t believe Robin Williams avoided suffering. Conversely, I think he endured it far too long. Maybe he desperately wanted to take off the mask that had become his overarching identity, interchanging the ridiculous with the seriousness in a more public way (and he did, tragically). If only a youthful Robin could have discovered a comic like Kevin Breel, in addition to Jonathan Winters, maybe he’d still be with us. Breel, an advocate for mental health, is determined to “shatter the silence of suffering,” speaking out about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts.

You’ve got to watch Breel’s 11-minute TED Talk, especially if you, or anyone you know, suffers from depression or other mental or emotional anguish. It’s quite moving. And if you are suffering from any severe emotional distress, please don’t suffer in silence. Seek help.

 

I Am Worthy, No Matter What

self-love1I’ve been on the hunt for days, poking around the internet to find an intelligent article on how to strengthen our self-worth. I struck gold today, discovering a powerful speech delivered by comedian Amy Schumer  at a Ms. Foundation gala. She cut to the core of the issue, illustrating how regrettable decisions made in youth can diminish our self-worth, but reversely, how courage and self-compassion will set us free from the belief of “never good enough.”

The root cause of low self-worth varies greatly, just as the image it projects. It can result from blatant neglect, abuse or abandonment, but also from subtler experiences that cause us to doubt or diminish ourselves. It’s inflicted on mass through cultural condemnation — by racism, sexism, or ageism.  It’s fueled when society proclaims, “You gotta be a rock star, a billionaire, a stud, or a stunner” to be valued in our time. “You gotta work yourself to death to make yourself ‘big’ or starve yourself to death to make yourself small.”

The reality of “never good enough” drives us hard on the outside as it drives us crazy within. We want to fit in, be loved, and feel valued. When we don’t, especially as youth, we develop strategies to hide our flaws or compensate for feeling insecure. As we grow into adulthood, many learn to numb the pain of unworthiness with alcohol, drugs, sex, food or other addictions. Some of us start putting others down in an attempt to build ourselves up. We approval-seek, strive for perfection, or jump from one self-improvement project to the next. Like Amy, some of us fall into bed with men we want to want us, only to discover that we feel worth-less after the dirty deed is done.

Buddhist psychologist, Tara Brach, Ph.D., illuminates the “trance of unworthiness” in her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of the Buddha.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years away trapped in the same old patterns. Entangled in the trance of unworthiness, we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness or dissatisfaction…the behaviors we use to keep us from feeling the pain only fuel our suffering. Not only do our escape strategies amplify the feeling that something is wrong with us, they stop us from attending to the very parts of ourselves that most need our attention to heal.

Recently I found myself, like Amy, reliving an experience that happened during my freshman year. I sensed some danger going “there”, but I also knew that if I paid attention to my thoughts, feelings, and actions, without judging myself, I could rewrite my story of unworthiness into a story of abiding self-love. I decided to go for it, carefully. With each step forward, I remained mindful of my choices. I didn’t escape into old patterns; instead, I watched them play out with a curious eye. In the process, I garnered the courage to face what I feared most as a child — rejection. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t resist. I knew I had to feel what I’d buried long ago.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s still a kid inside of me who doesn’t want to feel rejected. Who does! But I’ll never succumb to a strategy designed to mask my childhood pain. The pain is gone. The pattern’s been replaced by a belief that proclaims, I am worthy, no matter what you do or say.

I must conclude with Amy’s words, because her thoughts are definitely worthy of your time. She writes with power and humor…

I can be reduced to that lost college freshman so quickly sometimes. I want to quit. Not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, ‘All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.’ But then I think, f**k that. I am not laying in that freshman bed anymore ever again. I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.

Confused? Live the Questions

confusionYears ago I was burned out, living life on a treadmill, unhappy most of the time. I wanted my life to be different. But how? I didn’t know. I knew I needed to make a change, but what kind of change? What did I want? What would make me happy? I felt utterly confused.

Confusion. UGH! I hate it when I feel this way, don’t you? So unsettling! When confused, we naturally search for answers. We comb the archives of our minds, analyze our thoughts, and ask others for advice. We rehash ideas and mull things over, but if answers don’t come quickly, we often give up.

Thankfully I didn’t give up. My therapist wouldn’t let me. She suggested that I stop trying so hard to figure things out, and instead, simply allow my thoughts to come and go. Confusion always comes before clarity, she said. Be patient. Answers will come.

The great German poet, Rainier Maria Rilke, offered similar advise to a confused young poet:

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answers…You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise you or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Be attentive to what is arising in you, and place that above everything you perceive around you.

         Go into yourself. Live the questions. Talk about confusing! Waiting for answers to “arise” is something most of us weren’t taught to do. We were taught to arrive at a solution as fast as possible. Remember those timed tests we took in school? We were taught to analyze facts, apply reason, and logically figure things — quickly. Seldom were we encouraged to pay attention to what was arising in our minds — slowly. That was called daydreaming, and daydreaming meant you weren’t paying attention to the teacher, the teacher “outside” of you.

Well, let me introduce you to another teacher, your “inner teacher.”  I believe that each of us has an inner guide, a wise-self that emanates from soul, not ego or intellect. This intuitive voice offers up subtle clues and serendipitous occurrences when we stop searching outside ourselves, and instead, start listening to our true self within. This quiet voice of soul can’t be rushed. It surfaces when times and conditions are right.

blueskyI remember a momentous day when the time was right for my inner teacher to redirect the course of my life. It was January 1, 2007. I was taking a walk on a crisp, blue-sky day, nothing to do except enjoy a quiet beginning to the New Year. All the questions I’d been asking were nowhere in mind. Interestingly, that’s when the answer appeared out of nowhere. A voice rang out, clear as a bell, Go back to school! My analytical mind immediately intruded, Graduate school at age 50. Really? But the mystical voice didn’t concede. It continued, reminding me of two friends who had gone back to school at mid-life to get their degrees in counseling. Wow! Better sleep on this, I thought. After all, it was a big commitment to make at any age, especially my age.

The next day I proceeded to get back to business, and as always, the first thing I did was check my email. OMG! In the mix of mostly junk, two significant emails appeared — one from each woman who had come to mind the day before. I was blown away. You see, I hadn’t communicated with either in over three months. But on Jan 2nd, their emails affirmed that it was time for me to go back to school.

Amazing, yes, but not at all surprising. I had started my masters in counseling at 25-years old, but abandoned my dream to start a career in business. I had told myself then that I could return to school later in life, and later was apparently now.

Just as Rilke had advised, I had lived the question, patiently. Life had prepared me to be a psychotherapist in ways academia never could. Confusion was gone. My answer had arrived at the perfect time.

The Chemistry of Love

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. — C.G. Junglovers

Why do we fall in love with one person rather than another? That was the question posed to renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher by Match.com in 2004. Why an anthropologist? you ask. Interestingly, studies have concluded that romantic love isn’t an emotion. It’s a drive. According to Fisher, romantic love is one of 3 basic brain systems that evolved for reproduction. The sex drive evolved to get you out there searching for a mate; romantic love helped you focus on one person at a time; and attachment kept you bonded long enough to raise a family.

By 2004 research had concluded that chemistry leads us to love, but science had yet to crack the code on why we fall for one person rather than another. Match.com asked Fisher to figure this out. She agreed to help them create a new dating site, Chemistry.com. To begin, she drew on her knowledge of how personality traits sync up with four brain chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen, and then categorized them into distinct personality types.

fisher

  • Explorers are driven by the dopamine system. These types are novelty seeking, energetic and restless.
  • Builders produce greater amounts of serotonin, a chemical  associated with calmness, cautiousness, and tradition.
  • Directors are fueled by testosterone, a chemical linked to intellectualism, straightforwardness, and tough-mindedness.
  • Negotiators produce more estrogen, making them more imaginative, emotionally intense, and desirous of intimacy.

Next, Fisher developed a questionnaire to determine the personality types of nearly 40,000 Match.com subscribers. She needed to prove that each type thinks and acts differently; and she did. Now her goal was to see if a person’s unique temperament dictated who they chose to date. Do opposites attract? Or do we prefer people who think and behave like us?

If you’re chuckling to yourself (or cursing under your breath), you’re probably in a relationship with someone who has a different style than yours. Fisher found that Directors are drawn to Negotiators, and Negotiators to Directors. On the other hand, Builders and Explorers, gravitate to partners who are more like themselves. To date, over 7 million individuals have completed Fisher’s questionnaire to help themselves find the “perfect” match. Some even resulted  in marriage. Last year, 17% of internet matches led to marriage. Good news, don’t you think? Yet still, the divorce rate in the U.S. hovers around 50% and the average marriage lasts 8.8 years. So if the chemistry is right, why do the flames of love expire?

Science continues to search for answers. One answer, paradoxically IS chemistry. As with any fire, embers need to be stoked. When the sparks of romantic love fade—approximately 18 months to 3 years into a relationship—couples need to stir things up. Additional brain studies have found that novelty and excitement keep romantic love alive. Research from New York’s Stony Brook University found that couples who regularly do new and different things together are happier than those who repeat the same old habits. The theory suggests that new experiences activate the dopamine system and mimic the brain chemistry of early romantic love.

So, instead of planning a romantic dinner this Valentine’s Day, go rock-climbing or scuba diving (exciting), visit a new city or music venue (novel), climb a mountain or take a tango lesson (energizing). Explore new frontiers in the bedroom, or better yet, role-play at a secluded hideaway (tantalizing). Take risks with your lover, again and again, so that chemistry of love can continue to work it’s magic.

To learn more ways to keep love alive, check out this cool infographic, The Secrets of Happy Coupling.  And, if you need help in opening your heart to love again or rekindling the flames in a tired relationship, call me for a complimentary consultation @ 678-360-6018.

The Ebb & Flow of Life

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. IMAG0268

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I recently went to the seashore after experiencing a significant loss. I longed to be still in a tranquil place to feel my feelings and do what Anne Morrow Lindbergh so eloquently describes in Gifts From the Sea – to accept the ebb and flow of life. Morrow Lindbergh continues… We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity—

Endings, no matter how painful, are necessary to our growth and renewal. Consider how nature illustrates this enduring truth. Colorful leaves turn into murky mulch as fall turns into winter. Winter storms bear down on us, blustering winds and frozen rain, until sprigs of green appear on a sun-drenched branch in spring. Ebb tides, the period between high tide and low tide in which the sea recedes, occur daily, water pulled by the force of the moon in the darkness.

Little light shines when we experience a loss; the pull of darkness is palpable. Anger and sadness, melancholy and mournfulness pull at our heartstrings. Our bodies grow tired; our minds struggle to let go. Life feels hard, overwhelming sometimes, but over time, grief transforms us.

Griefwork, according to author and psychotherapist, Miriam Greenspan, is not a return to the pre-loss status quo, but an opportunity for a wholly new awareness of reality, self, beloved, and the world…. One way or another, we construct a meaning story, and it is through this story that we find acceptance.

The opportunity Greenspan speaks of can never be rushed. A tide doesn’t turn in an instant, IMAG0265and fruit on the vine doesn’t ripen until it’s time. In nature, there are seasons of stillness, yet human nature (especially in our 24/7 world) struggles to embrace transitory times. We leap into the next job or relationship, grabbing hold of something or someone to help us feel more secure or less heartbroken. We get busy doing, distracting, or denying our feelings, fearing we’ll drown in the ebb tide of sorrow.

But we won’t drown if we allow the waves of grief to take their natural course. The poet William Butler Yeats affirms this truth…How many times man lives and dies between his two eternities.

It’s never easy to be still and contemplate life’s endings, but it’s the only way I know to make meaning out of loss. Greenspan knows this all to well, having lost a child two months after his birth. She offers us hope for Healing Through the Dark Emotions, reminding us that out of this stillness an imperceptible movement occurs, from sorrow for what has been lost to gratitude for what remains.

Shhh! Quiet Your Inner Critic

Last year at this time I wrote a post titled, A Sensational Summer Ending. I used the game of baseball as an analogy for overcoming adversity, and since it’s that time of year, I’d like to do it again. I was reminded of the parallels when I watched the movie Moneyball last week and discovered that Oakland won their division yet again. If you’ve never seen the movie, you should. It’s really good! Based on a true story, the A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, builds a winning team despite a meager budget, the loss of his three most prominent (and expensive) players, and the constant barrage of criticism from just about everyone except his new Assistant GM, a Yale Economics graduate, whom Billy recruits to prove a theory that will revolutionize the game.

At a crucial juncture in the story, the naysayers’ voices rise to a soaring crescendo as the A’s fall to last place. Beane’s confidence wanes, his conviction withers, not only because of what’s happening at present, but more importantly, because of what happened in his past. Maybe they’re right? What the hell am I doing? I’m striking out now like I struck out then. Louder and deeper, the voices weaken his resolve, You can’t win, you won’t win, it’s impossible to win in the majors, you failure! You never made it as a player, so what makes you think you’ll win as GM?

NO! he screams under his breath as he spins his car around. I watch the movie entranced. Something inside the character has shifted. The critical voice that’s weighed on his psyche is no longer in play.

Like most of us, Billy has an Inner Critic, a voice within that tells us we’re not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough–or whatever enough. It dwells on our failures and reminds us of our mistakes. It develops early in life and grows ever stronger as we absorb the judgments of people around us and the expectations of the society in which we live.

In the film, Billy recalls his failures as a rookie while the A’s struggle to dig out of last place. The scouts said he was destined for greatness, but to his dismay, he never made it big. The critics hammered away then as they hammer away now. It feels all too familiar to Billy, the past playing out in the present. As I watch, I imagine his inner dialogue, I chose wrongly in my youth. Have I made a grave error again? Are the critics right? Am I doomed for failure?  In addition to Billy’s thoughts, I imagine his feelings–worry, anxiety, desperation, fear. Negative thoughts fuel negative feelings, that is, until Billy confronts his fear of failure and faces his demons head on.

In an instant, Billy changes. Prior to that time, he kept his distance from his players. It’s easier that way, he coaches his Yalie, if you ever have to cut them. It’s apparent that his rationale has been devised for self-protection; the haunting hurt of being cut is a hurt he doesn’t want to relive. So he buries it behind a wall that is now derailing his efforts. AHA! Insight strikes. It all becomes clear. He realizes that he can’t win with just a theory; he’s got to stop distancing himself and get closer to his players. He has to teach them what he’s learning, encourage them to play to their strengths, and most importantly,  show them that he believes in more than a theory, he believes wholeheartedly in each of them, no matter how they’ve been “valued” by the league.

No longer listening to the critics, inner or outer, the A’s dramatically change course. I’m on the edge of my seat, albeit in my living room. I know it’s just a movie, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for feel good stories, especially when people beat the odds and accomplish great things. The A’s did just that. They beat the record for most consecutive wins in the American League—20 in a row–and prove the critics wrong.

This week Billy’s winning again. His team is unexpectedly in the playoffs as American League West champs. Interestingly, he’s also in the press for a different reason. A San Francisco columnist is suggesting Beane run for mayor of Oakland given the downtrodden state of that city by the bay.  Nice that Billy’s being recognized for his talents, don’t you think? Nicer still if everyone, especially the undervalued, could receive much more of the same.

We all deserve encouragement. We all deserve to win. To learn how you can beat the odds by quieting your inner critic, read an excerpt from the book, Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset or call me to schedule a Voice Dialogue session. It’s an amazing process that will accelerate your growth.

P.S. This Atlanta girl who grew up in Pittsburgh hopes to see one of those two teams play the A’s in the World Series. Go Billy!!!

Today: A Gift

Today is not just another day. It’s the one day given to you today. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.

–Brother David Steindl-Rast

“Bear! See them?” shouted my friends. “Two of them!” I jumped up in grizzly_bear04my seat, excited, yet slightly rattled, given I had just dozed off to sleep. We had just left the city limits and were winding our way up a mountain road in the safe confines of a truck. I knew bears lived on this mountain, yet seeing them up close and personal—OMG! What an incredible surprise.

Surprises! However could we exist without them, for surprise, according to Brother David Steindl-Rast, is a beginning of that fullness we call gratefulness. Surprise stops us from taking things for granted. Moments of surprise, writes Steindl-Rath, want to teach us: everything is a gratuitous, everything a gift.

How often do we fail to remember this profound truth and fall asleep to the gifts of life? It’s so easy to forget in our hectic 24/7 world. We rush through our days or get caught up in routine until an unexpected surprise wakes us up.

This past year I’ve had the privilege to walk beside a beautiful man who faced an unexpected surprise—a diagnosis of male breast cancer (yes, men can get it too.) Talk about a wake-up call! So many people are surprised when they receive a diagnosis of cancer, yet half of all men and one-third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetimes.

Cancer, like a bear who shows up on a mountain road, can come and go given the wonders of modern medicine. But what I hope never leaves us, all of us, not only those who survive cancer, is the realization that every day we’re given is a gift.

In the following video, Brother David inspires us with his wisdom, as Louie Schwartzberg graces us with his breathtaking time-lapse nature photography.  Now pay attention: if you stumbled across my post today, then surely, you were meant to receive gifts from these two phenomenal men.

For more on “Surprise and Gratefulness,” read an excerpt from one of Steindl-Rast’s inspirational books, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to the Fullness of Life.

A Harmony of Head & Heart

One of my favorite singer-songwriters/musicians,Van Morrison, inspires me with his lyrics, “If my heart could do my thinking, and my head begin to feel, I would look upon the world anew, and know what’s truly real.” His words ring true for me now, but it washttps://i2.wp.com/us.cdn4.123rf.com/168nwm/buttet/buttet1208/buttet120800003/14691310-love-info-text-graphics-composed-in-head-and-heart-shape-concept-word-clouds.jpgn’t always so. Years ago, fear paralyzed me and anger wound me up. My body reacted before my mind could respond. I felt, and felt, and felt—sometimes to a fault.

I learned faulty feelings from my parents. My mother was ridden with anxiety; my father stuffed his anger until something or someone pushed him over the edge. Enraged, he’d explode. Terrified, I’d retreat. It wasn’t until I got into therapy at age 32 that I learned that I needn’t react to or suppress my emotions. I was determined to learn something my parents, despite their love for me, weren’t able to teach–how to engage the connection between head and heart in a healthy, functional way.

The latest research in neuroscience has proven that emotion and cognition are inseparable. Their interaction is hard-wired, and interestingly, science has proven that the neural connections from our emotion centers to our cognitive centers is more powerful the other way around. Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? Why else do we fall prey to anxiety or lose ourselves in anger? Why can’t we let go of frustration with those we love the most? On a more positive note, why do we fall hard when the love of our life appears? According to the Institute of Heartmath

Once an emotion is experienced, it becomes a powerful motivator of future behaviors, affecting moment-to-moment actions, attitudes and long-term achievements. Emotions can easily bump mundane events out of awareness, but non-emotional forms of mental activity (like thoughts) do not so readily displace emotions from the mental landscape. Likewise, experience reminds us that the most pervasive thoughts – those least easily dismissed – are typically those fueled by the greatest intensity of emotion.

For years, the therapeutic community rallied behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an approach that focused on changing our thoughts to help change our emotional response and/or behavior. Today we know that CBT isn’t enough. Emotions have to be addressed, since emotions, especially negative ones, frequently hijack our thinking. IHM’s research has proven that negative emotional states produce disorder in our heart rhythms and autonomic nervous system, fueling the body’s stress response. On the other hand, engaging positive feelings, most especially appreciation, balances our heart rhythms. It’s been scientifically proven that overwhelming emotions, such as anger, irritation, anxiety or frustration lose their power when we connect more deeply to our heart.

Van Morrison knew this intuitively when he penned the lyrics to a beautiful song, I Forgot That Love Existed. Take a listen…

Finally, scientists at Heartmath have proven it empirically. To experience increased harmony between your emotions and thoughts, I recommend a simple tool designed by Heartmath—The Quick Coherence Technique. Just follow these three quick steps or click here for a more detailed description…

  1. Heart Focus: Focus your attention on the area of your heart, the center of your chest.
  2. Heart Breathing: Breathe deeply but normally and feel as if your breath is coming in and out through your heart.
  3. Heart Feeling: As you maintain your heart focus and heart breathing, activate a positive feeling.

To learn more about other IHM’s tools, techniques, and technology visit www.heartmath.com. To learn more about the power of the heart, watch this brief YouTube video, then download IHM’s free eBook.

Step to the Right?

If you’ve never heard of Jill Bolte Taylor, let me introduce you to her. If you’ve read her book, My Stroke of Insight, or listened to her TEDTalk, you already know what an incredible gift she is to the world. A stroke victim, she found herself inside her brain as the boundaries of her body disintegrated into space. Wow! she writes. This is so cool! How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brains from the inside out?”

I write this post, not only to honor Jill Bolte Taylor, but to honor every man and woman who has ever suffered a stroke, including my dear friend, Lya Sorano. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it’s like to experience this trauma–but man! Jill Bolte Taylor does a superb job of helping us know. If you’ll excuse me now, I need to stop writing so you can start listening. Please listen to Jill. Her words are some of the most inspirational I’ve ever heard.

Over the next few months I’ll share more about the brain, most especially, the power we all possess to “step to the right” of our left hemisphere and experience what Jill did during her stroke–a deep inner-peace—where stress disappeared and her spirit soared. No matter our affliction, whether physical or psychological, the power of the right brain can help us heal, change, and grow.

If you’d like to learn more and receive notification of future posts, then enter your email in the upper right and click “Follow.” I’d appreciate the opportunity to stay connected.