“I must be willing to give up what I am, in order to become what I will be.”
– Albert Einstein
– Albert Einstein
For a fascinating view of how your brain works, and what you can do to create a more joy-filled life, read “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor. More about the book is at the end of this article.
One of the most interesting facts the author shared is when we are triggered, the body’s chemical response lasts for 90 seconds. That’s it. It takes the body 90 seconds from the trigger to run through the entire chemical reaction, to get back to normal. So, if you get angry or sad about something from the past, and your reaction lasts over 90 seconds you are doing something to prolong it. If you either suppress the emotion or think stories to bolster the emotion, you are doing it, not your body.
So, the next time you are dwelling on some past hurt, remember, you are prolonging the loop with your thoughts. As you notice this, try your best not to beat yourself up for this fact.
Try this instead, notice the negative thought loop, and label it, without judgement. For instance, “Oh look, I am thinking about what Sally said that hurt me yesterday.” Notice I didn’t say “Geez, I can’t believe I’m still thinking about that event” or “Crap! I’m doing it again! Why can’t I stop thinking about that?”
The first example is simply labeling what is happening, the next two examples are beating myself up, and thus prolonging the loop.
Next, do things that help you come into the present moment vs. the past. Notice your breath, focus on something you are grateful for, pay attention to the sounds and sights around you, examine what you are actually feeling in your body. Basically, you are interrupting your left brain’s attempt to create a negative story and make you believe it.
Now do this at least a hundred times. Seriously. I’m not kidding.
When we are interrupting well-worn thought patterns, it takes conscious effort to interrupt those neural pathway patterns enough so they become less of a go-to thought. You have spent years, maybe decades, reinforcing thought patterns of hurt, sadness, anger, and/or worry. Give yourself a break if it takes longer (like WAY longer) to stop a troublesome way of thinking than you would like.
It is worth it. You are worth it.
If you want to learn more about how our brain naturally functions to help you in learn how to work with it, read “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.” This book shows us, from a scientist’s perspective, how we shape our reality with our thoughts. Dr. Bolte Taylor had a stroke during which she lost her analytical, critical, problem searching and problem-solving part of her brain for several years. Her right brain, the part that had no need to find problems, or judge anything, including herself, was most in charge. That part felt joy, a sense of peace and oneness, FOR YEARS. Cool huh?
As Dr. Bolte Taylor’s left brain came back on board, through much effort, the author realized she could think critically without bringing back the criticism and need to judge as default patterns. She saw how her left brain created negative stories it wanted her right brain to believe. She saw she had a choice not to believe the stories.
We all have this choice, without being a neuroscientist, without having a stroke. One thought at a time.
Seattle Times recently wrote an article about the uptick in patients struggling with post-election anxiety. Dr. Tornatore is quoted with some helpful tips on how to keep our anxiety at bay.
I Can’t “Buck Up”
I don’t contain my irritation well. I would love to have that skill, but I don’t. Instead, I developed the skill of self-care. When I take care of myself, I am a calmer, kinder person.
When I don’t, my irritation leaks out in side comments or a burst, like when I yelled at my brother, stomped up the stairs and slammed the door, with my entire family as a witness. Not one of my finer moments.
It is a sign that I am not practicing what I preach. I am known for taking good care of myself and for endlessly championing self-care to others. For me, self-care includes vigorous exercise, meditation and time to myself. I have been doing none of those and it showed. I behaved badly.
I have a good excuse, my Mom is dying. Even that good of an excuse does not cut it. It doesn’t magically make me a Zen person who can handle grief, stress and exhaustion with good grace.
Instead of easing stress, which is my goal, I created it. So…it is time to do what I know works.
It is time to be kind to myself so I can be kind to others. Because that is how it works.
Life is not normal…
when your parent is dying. (I know…a total shocker.) Yet it is.
Let me speak for myself…my Mom is dying. I am lucky. I’ve always had a good relationship with her and with the rest of my family. I am blessed.
Yet I find myself in an uncomfortable limbo. I don’t want her to die, and I am waiting for her to die. I don’t want her to suffer. I don’t want to suffer.
I also feel the urge to get on with life. This, my friends, can cause a lot of guilt. I’ve seen it in every caregiver I’ve worked with.
I now see it in myself.
Luckily, I can talk to my family and friends. They all assure me I am not a horrible person—In fact, I am normal. They echo to me my own words to my clients over the years.
Life and death co-exist. Even as loved beings die, life continues to lure us to live. It is normal in a very un-normal time.
Perhaps all of life is like that.
As I was contemplating my day of seeing clients, it hit me—therapy is my meditation practice.
It is never as easy to be in the present moment as when I am sitting with a client.
I’ve had others tell me this. When I first started my private practice, the oh-so-present Jinny Tesik said “sometimes my clients ask ‘what do you think?’ and it takes me awhile to answer. I have just been listening, not forming my response.”
I did not get what she was saying. Instead I thought “how in the world is that possible?”
I have an abundantly active mind. I used to have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). Being in the present moment used to put me to sleep. I partially credit my 20+ year meditation practice for helping me get off medication and be able to sit still.
A couple years ago when I joined a consult group, we were sitting in my colleague Terry Steig’s, office on a cloudy Friday morning, eating pastries and drinking tea. Since it was my first time with the group, we all shared why we chose to become therapists. Terry, a man of great kindness and humanity shared “For me, therapy is sacred space, and I like to sit in sacred space a LOT.”
By this time, I had decade of experience and I immediately felt the truth of his statement.
Today, I was talking to a client about expanding his meditation practice—taking it to a deeper level. That conversation is likely why my realization hit me. Being in the presence of my clients, simply attending to what they choose to share, is a deeper meditation than my solitary sit with incense.
I finally realized what Jinny shared more than a decade ago. The experience of another human being sharing their life and allowing me to witness their vulnerability, brings me into the sacredness of being present with another human being.
This is why, when a client thanks me for working with them, I can honestly say “it is my pleasure.”