Saturday, August 4, 2012

Celebrating our first small steps

My adorable goddaughter is nearly eleven months old, and she has recently begun taking her first steps. Her mother, my dear friend Robin, has been sharing news of this exciting development on Facebook and through text messages and phone calls. Talking on the phone with Robin as her daughter took a step, I heard her clapping and celebrating every upright movement, counting the number of steps as they occurred, and rejoicing in each new milestone. “She’s taken seven steps in a row now!” Robin exclaimed with pure joy and enthusiasm. Her love for her daughter and pride in this new accomplishment were evident.

What a wonderful model for all of us! Rather than reserve our enthusiasm exclusively for babies and young children, why not extend our jubilation to older children and adults too – for everyone who dares venture into new territory, courageously, one step at a time?

My friend also reminds me of the importance of having a cheering section. How much easier is it to continue moving forward, continue taking risks, or continue practicing some new skill, when we have at least one person who sees what we are doing and relishes in it? It is deeply meaningful to know that there is at least one person in our lives who is rejoicing wholeheartedly when we achieve an important milestone, someone who notices and applauds each tiny step along the way.  

Not only can we be that cheerleader for others, we can also give this gift to ourselves. If other people fail to notice or applaud our small movements forward, we can still give ourselves a pat on the back, cheer out loud, do a “happy dance” to celebrate, and cheer ourselves on in whatever way feels good. Why not? As adults, we can become far too serious and task-minded, waiting to hit large milestones before giving ourselves any credit, and missing out on prime opportunities to exclaim with glee, “I’ve just taken four steps in a row!” We DO have the power to change this. We CAN celebrate each moment and each small step forward. I invite you to begin this practice for yourself – and to become an enthusiastic supporter of the other adults in your life as well.

What small step can you celebrate today? 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

This week, I heard a disturbing story about another helping professional. I received a call from a woman in the midst of an emotional crisis. She had sought out the services of another counselor first, a licensed therapist in practice for more than 20 years who had earned the respect of other mental health professionals throughout her career. During their third session together, this practitioner “nodded off” three times. When the client courageously confronted this person and asked for an explanation, the therapist acknowledged her tiredness and disclosed that she had been experiencing physical health problems, been in the hospital the previous evening, and had thirteen client appointments that day that she felt unable to cancel. The client had been in pain before and during the session and felt even more isolated and distressed after this experience.  This therapist had prioritized seeing clients over her need for sleep and follow-up health care. Both she and her clients suffered as a result.

When I heard this report, my initial response was one of anger and incredulity. How could a therapist consider scheduling 13 clients in one day? How could a practitioner think it was okay to see clients when so clearly tired, distressed, and impaired? I had trouble wrapping my head around the situation.

But, then I reflected back on my four years as part of the American Counseling Association’s Task Force on Counselor Wellness and Impairment – and what we learned. We are all somewhere along the continuum from well to stressed to distressed to impaired. However, we are not always clear about where we are on that continuum. In a survey of counselors, people were fairly likely to identify a colleague as stressed, distressed, or even impaired; however, they rarely identified themselves as stressed or distressed and outright denied any signs of impairment.  If we are unable to see or acknowledge our distress, we are unlikely to take the steps necessary to nurture ourselves back towards wellness. Our progression along the continuum towards health or illness does not happen in a moment or from one experience, but, rather, gradually over time as a result of our beliefs, our isolation, accumulating stressors, and the lack of support (or receptivity to support) from colleagues, friends, and family who could challenge us to curb potentially destructive patterns of behavior and self-neglect.

Further reflection on this recent discovery about another professional helper has inspired sadness and compassion for this struggling human being, as well as gratitude for the cautionary tale her unaddressed distress (and resulting impairment) provides us. 

Please take excellent care of yourselves. If concerned about a colleague, let them know. Our ability to help others depends on our ability to help ourselves first. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Honoring Agitation

I woke up agitated today. I was not sure exactly why I felt so irritated or what I could do to lessen the feeling. What did become increasingly clear as the day went on was that pushing myself to do tasks I found unpleasant was making me feel worse.

I enjoyed a productive day of home organizing on Friday followed by two fun days with friends and family over the holiday weekend. I had plans to be productive again today and tackle some projects I felt were long overdue. However, my body, mind, and spirit had another agenda.  The more I pushed, the more restless and distracted I felt. It was like an internal game of tug of war.

Finally, I surrendered. Taking some time to sit, breathe, move, tone, and notice what I was feeling – to dive into my experience more fully rather than trying to distract myself from it or avoid it – I found a way through the agitation. Listening, I found that my voice wanted an outlet for this tension – and I toned and screamed and enjoyed the release. My body was also begging for more water in this heat – and rest.  My soul craved some spiritual reading and quiet. While I had ambitious plans today for more home organization and cleaning as well as doing some work on my business, my body overrode my mind’s desires and screamed, “NO!” The agitation was a call to listen.

When I slow down to honor that internal “static” when it appears – in agitation or distraction or sluggishness – I always learn something and feel better. It reminds me of that funny one-liner I have heard many times: “When you’re going through hell, remember to keep going.” You don’t want to get stuck in it, do you? While sometimes pushing through seems like the best strategy to “keep going,” often slowing down and really listening to ourselves and how we feel and what we need is more effective.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Time to "Do Nothing"

How often do we allow ourselves time to “do nothing”? When do you carve out space in your hurried schedule to sit or walk or reflect or play, without an agenda or an intended outcome? Regular practices of meditation or yoga or journaling – or even naps – are wonderful opportunities for rest, self-care, and self-reflection. In addition to these, I wonder about experiences of spontaneity, the choice to cast aside our routines and tasks lists and follow the whispers for whimsy in our everyday lives. When do you give yourself time – in your own home, in nature, on vacation, in a neighboring city, in the mind and soul of your creative impulse – to follow a random trail of your thoughts, feelings, and impulses and simply see what happens?  How often do you drive right off the map into unchartered territory for no reason whatsoever – except that you feel like it?

For me, I realize I don’t intentionally devote nearly as much time to this spontaneous experiencing as my heart desires. I remember, as a child growing up, how expansive time seemed. It seemed there were endless possibilities for play and adventure, limited only by the sun rising and falling in the sky and the occasional steady rain that drove us indoors.  I remember fondly how we would play detective games in which everything we noticed was another clue revealing itself, moving us a step closer to solving the mystery at hand.

Today, I continue to embrace a sense of mystery, continue to find people and nature and the universe endlessly fascinating.  I cherish those moments during which I allow myself to step out from behind the driver’s seat and to look for “clues” to the questions that excite and haunt me.  I love noticing numbers – and looking up what significance they may have. When an animal or bird catches my attention (e.g. spotting a red fox or a skunk in my yard or seeing Canadian Geese on my drive into work), I enjoy reading about possible symbolism, exploring the idea of animals as messengers along my journey.  Sometimes I embrace the random in even simpler ways, such as setting my ipod to “shuffle” and letting the music lead me where it may.

Nothing enchants me like the promise of entire day without anything planned. When people ask me, “What are your plans for the weekend?” and I respond with “Nothing,” they may notice my smile and the twinkle in my eye.  I love that “nothing” can become anything at all. Instead of accepting societal biases that label down time as unessential or doing “nothing,” I wonder if, instead, the time we devote to “nothing” may actually be the very zest of life.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Holding Hands

Lately, more and more, I have been nourishing myself by reading Hafiz and Rumi. Today, I opened "The Gift" by Hafiz to a random page, and the poem, "A Great Need" stared back at me with a wink and a smile. The poem encourages us to hold hands as we climb, stating that "The terrain around here is far too dangerous" to consider not holding hands, not loving, not being connected to others along the journey. What a true statement!

In our society which prides itself so much on the value of rugged individualism, we can sometimes put undue pressure on ourselves to go the rough patches alone. I remind myself that no one person really ever does anything alone. We need other people alongside us on the path. To listen to our stories and to share their stories with us. To give us a hug or a place to sleep or a mug of tea or a piece of sage advice when we need comfort and sustenance.

We learn so much from the world around us and are shaped and influenced by the people in our lives and the experiences we have had. Can anyone really say that they have achieved great things on their own? We are continuously learning from others and drawing inspiration from known and unknown sources. The interconnectedness among all people is a source of great richness. By tapping into the vast wisdom of those around us, those that have come before us, and all beings in the natural world where we live, our lives can be enriched in poignant and unforeseen ways.

As a counselor, I have noticed that my best work often comes when I allow myself to deeply surrender to the moment, to the experience of not knowing, and be present for whatever arises. My work with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has demonstrated this to me dramatically. EMDR facilitates the mind's natural healing processes, allowing people to work through trauma and blocks in their current lives - towards healing, inner harmony, and joy. In the midst of this process, people share the most profound, spiritual insights. Experiences of divine love (a felt sense of being deeply loved and intrinsically lovable) naturally emerge through metaphor and memories within the process of EMDR. Witnessing the sweetness of love unfolding is a true gift - and reminds me time and again of our interconnectedness. My role is to offer genuine caring, share my unyielding faith in the power for positive transformation, and be present in the moment as it unfolds.

We have within us a "Great Need" as Hafiz suggests. A need for community and connection. And a need for being seen, accepted, and loved. Walking together, holding hands, we can navigate any terrain. Today, I wish you fellow travelers along your journey - and the courage to extend your hand. Extend it not only as an offering of support to others but as a gift to yourself to be received in kind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Welcoming Prosperity, Welcoming Love

In preparing for the next series of practice-building workshops I’ll be offering this Spring, I found myself reflecting on the topic of prosperity and the internal blocks that so many skilled healthcare professionals encounter as they start, shift, expand, and grow their practices. Working individually and in groups with practitioners, I hear a wide array of inner block experiences, and several themes emerge. They include fears about scarcity and competition, guilt and confusion about whether or not it is okay to earn a comfortable living as a healer, and worries about whether it is possible to be prosperous doing work one truly LOVES.  While there are always practical considerations in growing a practice (location, startup costs, defining your specific niche, etc.), these details are rarely the places where people get stuck. Instead, the deepest blocks typically present as a crisis of faith. Here, faith can refer to faith in oneself, one’s skills, and one’s unique way of helping. It can also be understood as faith in God, the Universe, or one’s personal sense of spirituality or meaning. Those in private practice need faith that when they offer their heart, skills, and deepest passion, the world will support and receive them well. When we step forward out of fear, instead of love, we may move tentatively, creating only half of the life we envision or trusting our heads more than our hearts and designing a practice that “makes sense” but leaves us feeling bored, drained, uninspired, or burned out. Or, when listening to fear, we may not move at all.

Reflecting on this topic as I sat outside enjoying this warm Sunday, some words from the Sufi poet Hafiz came to mind. Hafiz challenges us to surrender to love, to see the divine in ourselves, and to engage our sense of play through dance, song, and laughter. Two poems in particular were moving through my mind as I enjoyed the flowering trees, sunshine, and light breeze today. The first was “The Sun in Drag” in which Hafiz writes:

You are the Sun in drag. You are God hiding from yourself. . . .
The appearance of this world is a Magi’s brilliant trick, though its affairs are nothing into nothing. You are a divine elephant with amnesia trying to live in an ant hole. . . . You are God in Drag!

The second is “Now is the Time” which concludes with these lines:

What is it in that sweet voice inside that incites you to fear? . . . .  This is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility that there is anything but Grace.
Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred.

Inspiration is important for our sustenance as healers, and both of these poems inspire me to remember my personal sense of meaning in this work and in this world.  For me, my best work is not solely of me but rather moves through me.  Yes, I have specific training, an advanced degree, and much learned wisdom. However, when I am most in the “flow” in my work, I am more than my training. I am intuitively connected to the person with whom I am sitting, and I am doing work I truly LOVE and that empowers, fascinates, and energizes both of us.  I believe that whenever we are clear with our passion and our path, prosperity follows. Faith doesn’t preclude the necessity for hard work; instead, faith makes the hard work and perseverance possible.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

End it Already - by Becky Blanton

Reposted from Social Work PRN's Blog (follow link above):
I had a good friend and co-worker years and years go who I admired for one thing — his ability to end something quickly. Rodger was 20 years older than me and he had a knack for knowing when something or someone was just going to waste his time, resources or energy, or if they were worth hanging in there with because ultimately they’d come through. To my knowledge, he was never wrong.
Rodger never fretted, worried, weighed pros and cons or tried to rescue anything or anyone. Once he uttered the words “End it already,” we knew he was done with whatever it was he was working with. It didn’t mean the person; place or thing couldn’t be salvaged, only that he had decided it wasn’t worth investing his time, energy or resources on it or them anymore. Rodger did not pursue lost causes, or high demands on his time and energy. He knew what he was willing to invest and what he wasn’t and he wasn’t afraid to say “No.” He knew what he was worth, what his time was worth, and what kind of investment he needed to get on any work he did. He had, as they say, excellent boundaries.
Last week I put in a bid on a job with a new client. He read my proposal, checked my 30 plus testimonials from clients and sent me an email. All my former clients, except one, had rated me a perfect 5.0 score on 25 points of service. The one client in question had given me 24 out of 25 for a 4.9 score on time. I had delivered the job two days early, so it was an error they made when registering the score, but the job service won’t allow you make changes, so it stuck. It was the one imperfection, although not a true imperfection on my perfect record. He said, “Boy, that must have cranked you off.”
In my head I could hear Rodger saying, “End it already,” and telling me to walk away. But I didn’t. For the next 3 hours we exchanged 2-3 emails an hour while I answered questions, offered advice, tried to reassure and help him find solutions while I encouraged him to make a decision on his project. “We’re 90% sure it’s going to be you,” he said. “But we’re still looking at other proposals.” Eventually I looked at the clock and at the dozens of non-committal emails and the man’s demands and complaining and I ended it. It was decent money, but I was over it already. I kicked myself for not stopping sooner.
Looking back, I recognized a lot of signs, things Rodger would have noticed immediately — things that he would have said, “End it already” to. If you tend to be someone who has trouble “falling in holes,” ( ) here’s a checklist for spotting trouble before it gets its hooks in you:
Pay attention to the first remarks, the first conversation and first impressions. If you’re in a job interview, at a party, on a first date, meeting a client for the first time how you’re treated is as good as it gets. My first clue was this client’s first, and unusual comment about how something very tiny “must have cranked me off.” He focused immediately on what he saw as a fault. Considering that dozens of other people had given me perfect scores and everyone had high praise, he came across as supercritical and focused on the negative. He said nothing about the positive remarks and rave reviews. Clue one.
Notice if your boundaries and value are respected. I established a time frame and said, “If you can make a decision on this and hire me by this time, I can do this job by your deadline.” The client blew off my concerns with time, but kept insisting on quality on a rush job, while expecting a lower price. Clue two.
Listen carefully and trust your gut. Does the other person hear your questions and concerns, or are they focused only on their needs? Does it FEEL good to you when you think of proceeding, or do you feel a bigger rush if you imagine yourself saying “No.”? I definitely felt relief when I imagined withdrawing my bid and I was right. I felt immediate peace the instant I hit “Send” on the withdraw button. Clue three.
Notice if the price changes. This doesn’t mean the financial price — but the time, energy and resource price. Is the person changing the rules and terms of the agreement without checking with you first? When the client doubled the scope of the project without asking if that was doable first. He was focused only on getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. Once he extended the scope to something beyond what I was willing to commit to, I withdrew. Clue four.
Cut your losses. Studies show that the more we invest in a project or person, the more likely we are to keep investing in them rather than cut our losses and run. Determine ahead of time when you will pull the plug and “end it already.” For me it was a set amount of emails and time invested without a firm commitment. I am willing to be helpful, but beyond a certain point my help becomes billable. Without a commitment to a contract I cut my losses. Clue five
Define your deal breaker. Deal breakers are the things we’re not willing to compromise on when we buy something, agree to something or get involved in something. A deal breaker for many of us is abuse of any kind. Others will tolerate occasional verbal abuse, but not physical abuse. Any abuse is a deal breaker for me. That includes over the top comments, sneers and responses to a civil email. Clue six.
More than the peace of withdrawing a bid (the first time I’ve ever done that ever) was the relief I felt at realizing that I could end it already, and will do so again should the need arise. You don’t have to please everyone and just because you start down a dead-end road doesn’t mean you have to hit the cul-de-sac before you turn around. Learn to “end it already.” There’s a difference between changing your mind and giving up. You don’t win gold stars for finishing if all you succeed in doing is beating yourself up, violating your boundaries and feeling bad about finishing when you wanted to walk away. To every thing is a season, and when it’s time to end it, it’s time to end it. Walk away. There are some things that can’t be salvaged and some things that shouldn’t be salvaged. Either way, the solution is the same. Cut your losses and leave.