Too many women have learned that the only way to step into a position of influence is to team up with a powerful man. How many of us have had relationships or sought alliances with bosses, coaches and father figures, who seemed to provide us with confidence or an opening into a bigger, more expansive world.
Actresses feeling the need to cozy up to male producers and directors because this is where the power lies, is just one example. The same dynamic has been cultivated - by men and women alike, naively or begrudgingly - in corporations, politics, sports, families and everywhere in between.
Women have stood up to it, and many men have aligned with them.
Not everyone is able to join the marches. But everyone is called to withdraw their energy from upholding outdated patterns, and to redirect your energy towards your own empowerment.
True power is not power over others, but the ability to tap into your own inner resources and strength, and to act from a place of internal coherence and a sense of agency. To calmly and firmly say No to what’s not working for you, and to point out dysfunctional dynamics in an adult manner.
The first task is to become aware how you give away your power: when do you fall back into a state of helplessness, dependency, hostility or feeling bad about yourself? In what situations do you want to resort to beliefs like “I can’t do it”, “I am being abandoned” or “I’m not good enough”? All these misguided beliefs - which are never really true - lead us to give up our own power. To look to others to do it for us, or to hide in a safe place where no one can hurt us.
True power means taking responsibility - for our faults and mistakes, and for showing just how much we are capable of. That doesn’t mean you have to turn into a flaming proponent of women's rights. It simply means to fully step into your own self, without all the “what ifs” and “I can’ts.”
We live in a culture where we quickly point to other people and blame them for what’s wrong. And sometimes rightfully so. But we can’t control what other people do. We can however start to take charge of our own lives. That begins by facing the challenges in our daily lives, even if we may not feel equipped to deal with. It begins by reminding us of our own inner value, and the million ways we are already making a difference.
If all the energy that goes into blaming others or the circumstances would go back into dealing with our own healing and empowerment, we would be much further along as a society.
I have been around the block of the meditation world for a while. I started out with Zen, because it seemed to come closest to a philosophical rather than a religious approach. I checked out mindfulness, insight meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. I've done guided meditations, drumming journeys, breath work, kundalini yoga and pretty much everything in between. But the technique that had the most palpable effect on me is what may be described as "space meditation", and was made popular by the scientist Joe Dispenza.
Dispenza created a mediation sequence that is called the "Blessing of the Energy Centers". It is designed to bring the chakras back into balance, which leads not just to physical but also to emotional coherence. It is designed around imagining your body and energy centers in space, and it is narrated on top of very powerful, trance inducing music.
It is this simple method that brings the brain waves, which are usually out of balance if you live in the modern world, back into balance. When we suffer from anxiety or depression, and negative feelings like anger or guilt dominate the mind, our energy field is incoherent. It can manifest in physical symptoms like chronic tension or pain, fatigue and low energy, and more severe illness.
The body stores all our negative emotions, and becomes energetically imbalanced. Everything is energy - feelings, thoughts, physical movement. When our energy body is in harmony, our emotions are brought back to harmony as well. If you can make this meditation a part of your daily routine, with time you will feel a lot better.
Breath is the source of life. Ancient yogis have built much of their wisdom on how to utilize breathing not just as a spiritual practice, but also a means to enhance physical and emotional well being.
“Take a deep breath” has become a ubiquitous formula to meet many challenges: it’s a popular – and effective – go-to remedy to calm yourself down, to handle the anticipation of bad news or to get ready and take a dive. Breathing techniques are a common tool to contain pain, most frequently in child birth. But what may seem to some like new age advice to avoid more heavy duty solutions is actually based on hard science.
Deep, slow breathing has been proven to increase oxygen flow in the bloodstream, which in turn triggers the relaxation response. What is usually meant is abdominal breathing, where the inhale is focused on the abdominal area rather than the chest and shoulders.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal praised the benefits of deep breathing and its potential benefits for multiple conditions, starting with stress reduction and anxiety, and improving physical conditions like inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, heart health and the entire immune system.
Most techniques focus on deep breathing versus shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is usually associated with stress – the fight or flight trigger. Howard Kent, founder of the Yoga for Health organization and author of the book Yoga Made Easy, states that, “One of the most common problems in our society is shallow breathing. The process that we call hyperventilation can be a response to many challenges: emotional, environmental, and physical. As a result of these challenges, there is a tendency to take small breaths — a sign of unease with life — using only a small upper part of the lungs.”
Taking the time to redirect the attention to the automatic and effortless dynamic of the breath is a soothing and easy way to calm yourself in a self directed manner. No experts or pharmaceutical help necessary.
Another set of breathing exercises come via the Huffington Post: The so-called “Taco breath” is good to cool down physically and mentally. You curl your tongue and inhale through your tongue like a straw. Sit with your back, neck and head aligned, feet flat on the ground, and inhale through your tongue. Then swallow the breath while you’re holding onto the breath, and then exhale through your nose, pulling your bellybutton to your spine — a long, slow, deep breath. It’s good to sooth stomach aches.
1. Fess up. Don’t pretend to be a social butterfly. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. Tell your date if you are someone who seeks friendship first or needs time to fall in love. You may scare away a few flakes, and instead attract people who will really appreciate you.
2. Meet at places where you feel confortable. If you don’t like loud bars, don’t go there. Often introverts are also pleasers, and they will do what they think is asked of them even if they suffer. Find a place that makes you feel comfortable: a laid back coffeeshop perhaps, or a park. Take your date out for a walk with your dog. You’ll have an ally who will be there for you whatever happens.
3. Avoid smooth talkers. In a relationship, you need to be heard. If your date won’t allow you to get a word in edgewise, it’s not the right person for you.
4. Look for subtle connections. Sometimes we get so flooded by first impressions and things to look out for, it’s difficult to just feel what it’s like to sit with this person. Do you like being there? Or does it feel crowded, overwhelming, or make you nervous? Make sure you actually enjoy hanging out with your date.
5. Beware of takers. Introverts are often givers. We listen, pay attention, and want to be there for the other. Make sure you get to be on the receiving end of the equation. If you have to ask repeatetly for romantic gestures or to be included, this is what you sign up for down the road.
Becoming a Forest Therapy guide has been a deeply transformative experience for me.
Like most of us, I had gone into the woods only rarely and then rushed through it. I worried if I was getting enough exercise. Would hiking count as a cardio workout, or would it be better to jog? How long would I have to do this?
Looking back, I realize just how alienated I was from nature. And I am still learning. I used to spend a lot of time with computers and phones (ok, I still do, to a lesser degree). I had little regard for how my presence in the forest would affect the animals that live there. And just how intelligent trees and plants really are.
But everything changed, almost instantly, when I began to immerse myself into the woods. Slowly, deliberately and with mindful regard for the beings whose home it is, I began to get to know them.
I ran into a deer a little while ago, almost literally. I was jogging (gingerly) through a patch of urban forest, when I saw a young buck, maybe 30 yards to my left. He just stood there, unfazed by my appearance. I stopped abruptly, mesmerized by the image that presented itself to me: this beautiful, gentle being, who seemed to look at me so trusting, at the end of a tree lined path.
We gazed at each other for what felt like a long time. He waited patiently until I took his picture, and it was me who eventually broke away. I waved at him and when I turned around a second later, he has disappeared.
Had I not been an (imperfect) Vegan already, this encounter probably would have turned me into one.
Forest bathing has even more to offer than connection: trees release chemicals called phytoncides in an effort to strengthen the health and immune system of other trees and plants. When we humans walk among trees, we automatically take in these hormones. The trees take care of all beings that visit, including us. Being in the forest automatically calms anxiety and eases depression.
I’ve noticed these benefits immediately. Symptoms of a mild autoimmune disorder I’ve had for decades and never responded to any kind of conventional treatment, all of a sudden dissipated. Scientific studies point to benefits even for cancer and heart disease patients. Taking one three hour long walk in the woods per week will do.
Another effect it had on me is that I religiously began to compost and recycle. My husband looked at my efforts to bring back food scraps from the restaurant in my own plastic container somewhat astonished. Now he tries to remember as well.
Our culture is dangerously disconnected from the resources we take for granted. We ingest food and water and use energy that is freely taken from the Earth, the plant and animal world, but we have forgotten to honor the givers. That is why the planet is in peril. We take and take without truly considering the costs to those who give.
Change is essential. And it is already happening in many segments of society.
But I don’t think there is a need to totally curse technology or move to the North pole. We can start to make changes in a gentle way.
That is what Forest Therapy is about: to reconnect mindfully and at whatever pace possible. In nature things move slowly, but everything always gets done.
I never really liked Tony Robbins very much. The popular self help guru likes to hear himself talk and promises people the world. That is what I thought maybe ten years ago, when I first encountered some of his shows. Ever since, I didn’t give him a chance to win me over. None at all. Until last week, when a trusted colleague recommended to have a look at this video. If you’ve ever had doubts about your relationship, take eight minutes out of your day and watch it. I promise, it is worth it.
What Robbins does here by means of some impressive wizardry is to make a young man, who is frustrated with his marriage and his wife, step into his parnters’ shoes. He validates his point of view, and then turns the focus around and makes him think about how his wife might feel. Robbins makes optimal use of having a large audience that will side with what he skillfully makes out to be the right way to approach the matter. It’s an educational tale of how relationship works. If you can give to the other what is needed, the world will be at your fingertips. Ironically, that is exactly what I used to criticize about the guy. I guess I’ve changed my perspective somewhat. Years and years of self inquiry will do that for you.
If you’ve watched the first video, you might have seen the one that followed. It’s a clip of Robbins and his wife, Sage, selling people some kind of love & passion DVD. The couple was man and woman enough not to edit a very telling moment at about 2.50 minutes, when they disclose a dynamic that they’ve been struggling with – his hyperactive personality that seems to demand all her time and energy, or as she puts it “me, begging for sleep and food”. They frame the issue around the need for humor – as in, this is what we’ve been struggling with for 12 years, but we’ve learned to make light of it. If this is going down between the two of them as all fun and joy, I’d suspect it’s not always the case. At least it’s not in most relationships.
All couples struggle with one or several core issues that will go away only with time and patience. Most people will struggle with these core issues for years. But if you keep at it and are willing to see your partner’s perspective, you can arrive at a place where you can make fun of it all. That doesn’t mean that all arguments will cease. They may still flare up during a time of stress or hardship. But if you can learn to let go, even the most persistent conflicts can be overcome. And not just in celebrity couples.
Last night was one of those nights again. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning – maybe it was 3am, maybe it was 5am, I don’t know. I felt sad and uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right. What was it this time? Sometimes I wake up at night and I worry that the Earth will stop supporting us. Other times I wake up with sad memories of my cat dying.
Last night I felt concerned about one of the clients in my care who had arrived at an impasse. Was there something I hadn’t done for her? Was she mad about an intervention I had made? Did I not live up to my responsibilities?
I started doing what I learned works best in these situations. I start to comfort that part of me that is afraid. I tell myself that everything will be all right. Like a child on my lap that is inconsolable, I tell myself that it’s ok. That there’s nothing to worry about.
It usually helps. Most of the time, I fall back asleep.
In the past I tried to push away the fears. As soon as I realized that I was anguished, I would repress the fear. No, it’s insubstantial. Nope, I don’t want to think about that. No way is this something I want to deal with right now
It backfired. Every time I dismissed my own fears, they would come back with a vengeance. I kept waking up, having the same concerns. Or I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I felt worn out, tossing from side to side, starved for warmth and attention – from myself.
Until I finally started to realize that I have to actually do what I tell my clients: walk towards the fear. Look at it. Embrace it. Rock it side to side. Don’t repress it. It will get worse.
Millions and millions of people lie awake at night, worrying about their loved ones, about their mortality, about their future. You are not alone. Whenever your mind is in the grip of fear, remember, there are so many people who feel just as alone and scared and bleak as you do right now.
We are all in the same boat. When night falls and morning is about to break, we are at our most vulnerable. We lie alone with our thoughts with no one to talk to, fragile and full of sorrow. But you are not alone. You are a part of the human family. We all are afraid at times. We worry about things that seem meaningless once the sun comes out.
Fear is a part of being alive. It’s the flip side of courage, of heroism and resolve. Without fear, we would be complacent and stagnant. Welcome your fear. It is trying to relay a message that only you can decipher.
If there is a soul, what is that really? The term “soul” is usually monopolized by religions and implies an existence after death. In psychology, we use the word “Self”, that what we identify with as a whole. But are they different from each other, or do they mean one and the same?
The psychotherapeutic school of thought Internal Family Systems therapy is shining a new light on this question. The theory surmises that we all consist of a number of parts, as in “a part of me wants this” and “a part of me wants that”. Some of these parts carry a lot of feeling, and others are very detached and intellectual. Some see the world for what is is, and others want it to be different.
Very often, several of these parts are in conflict. That is what gets us into trouble. One part knows that it’s dangerous to eat that extra slice of pizza, but the other needs some comfort food and will try to overpower the first one. Then there’s another part that judges you for even being weak, and off we go into a merry-go-round of internal struggle.
And we go on and carry that internal tension into the world and cause more conflict with others who we then blame for whatever we can in order to get rid of the pain.
So it is important to sort out all the conflict we carry around inside to avoid misplacing it onto other people.
Many times, there are lots of parts involved in an epic internal battle for control and in an attempt to avoid pain. IFS theory, which was created by the psychologist Richard Schwartz, states as one of its goal to get all the parts to coexist in harmony with each other. If they all rally behind you, they play like an orchestra in tune with its conductor.
So there is the big question, who then conducts the cacophony of parts? It is the Self who is behind it all. The Self as it is is already calm and peaceful, deliberate and serene. It’s not the Self that gets us into trouble, but the parts that are constantly at war with each other.
Our task lies in getting in touch with that inner being that already knows what is right and good. It is the intuitive part of our selves which knows more than we give it credit for. Too often it is obscured by anxiety, sadness and doubt. The more of our parts are fighting to be in control, the harder it is to get through to that innate wisdom that we all carry within us.
Some people see this Self, which is healthy and led by equanimity, as the Soul. A presence that is timeless, reliably calm and detached from the daily drama that pulls us in many directions.
A person who can be in touch with the Self throughout most days is what we call a soulful person: a personality of inherent beauty and serenity. Everybody has it. The only a task is to find it.
Many people struggle with ambivalence: Is the man or woman I’m going out with the right person for me? Should I change this job that provides a good salary but doesn’t challenge me? Was my coworker out of line when she questioned me, or am I too sensitive?
Ambivalence can be paralyzing. Swaying back and forth between two or more points of view is natural, but when it goes on for too long, it inhibits our ability to make decisions. The worst case is to get stuck with no way out, and others end up calling the shots.
But ambivalence doesn’t have to be painful. So often we beat ourselves up for being unable to reach a conclusion. And once our inner critic is firmly in charge, all of our energy goes into trying to resolve the inner conflict, and things get even harder.
Slow down. There is something to be said about that in-between state, right before we hone in on a final course of action. It’s the place of free flowing exploration, when the pressure to act is suspended, and we can simply enjoy the possibilities that are available to us. It’s important to acknowledge that we have choices. We are in control of deciding which path to take.
Ambivalence can help us mature. It presents an opportunity for growth and change because it involves coming to terms with the rich complexity of experience that we are privy to. As soon as you are able to imagine the possibilities you have at your fingertips, the process becomes expansive and limitless. Rather than avoiding certain scenarios, your fantasies can carry you to a place of peace and tranquility. And it is just this tranquility that will work to your advantage when the time to make a decision comes. That’s when ambivalence feels expansive, and can be a powerful part of our emotional and intellectual process.
Ambivalence is human. President Obama reflected on this while campaigning for office. “There is a certain ambivalence in my character that I like about myself,” he was quoted in Newsweek. “It’s part of what makes me a good writer. It’s not necessarily useful in a presidential campaign.”
If you can embrace your ambivalence it will work with you. If you chastise yourself for it, everything contracts, and the perception that your choices are limited will prevail. The more we learn to tolerate ambivalence and just leave ourselves alone, the more naturally we will come to decide on a course of action, because it will also make it easier to accept if we end up making a decision that seems wrong. But there are no wrong decisions, because even these help us learn and grow. Especially these.
If you get stuck in your ambivalence, try to befriend it. Give it a shape and a persona. Maybe it feels like a formless blab, or a menacing ghoul. Try to look at your ambivalence as if it were a friend who has your best interest in mind. Imagine it telling you to take your time to be sure you have considered all options. Be understanding with the part of yourself that hesitates.
Of course it is hard to exclude so many seemingly good (or bad) options. Life often moves fast, faster than we want it to. Tip your hat to your ambivalence, because it is trying to spare you from disappointment. When you feel more positive about its role, express your gratitude to the imaginary persona you have created and do some self exploration.
What’s behind the hesitation?
If you find yourself ambivalent, because you don’t want to disappoint another person, you are not alone. We depend on our social connections and have to navigate their needs versus our own carefully. But if you find yourself chronically in the situation that your own needs go unanswered, you may be out of touch with your own wants and desires. If you’re paralyzed by always thinking of other people first, pause, and refocus on yourself. You have every right to prioritize your own happiness.
Fear of failure
Examine the part of you that is afraid to fail. Ambivalence is good for a while, but at some point we have to jump in and take the risk. It’s important to face the possibility that you might make the "wrong" decision. You may change your mind. You may regret it. Nobody can save you from making mistakes. But mistakes teach us the best lessons we have to learn about life. And you will always move past your mistakes. Life flows. Nothing ever stays the same. Including when we mess up.
Fear of missing out
This fear often goes back to losses earlier in life. If you at one time felt chronically excluded by others, you will try to avoid feeling left out ever again. It’s important to mourn these losses so you can move past feeling bereft in situations that may have nothing to do with your past, but end up holding you back.
Most of us have been there: You’re sitting down to enjoy a nice dinner, and uncle Tom (or aunt Linda) starts ranting. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about politics, your child’s education, or the way your new hairdo looks.
The important thing is that you feel put upon – regardless of whether they bring up politics or attack you in some way. And even though it feels extremely triggering to have to listen to them – this is also what puts you in the driver’s seat: It’s not about them – it’s about you staying in control of your own reactions.
So before you start rolling your eyes or think about fighting back, take a moment and look inside.
1. Take a sip of water, take a breath and ask yourself: Why am I so bothered by their BS?
Does their opinion really matter to you? Do you see their comments as the ultimate truth rather than a projection of their anxieties?
Most of the time, criticism is nothing but a hidden form of blaming someone else for one’s own insecurities. The definition of blame is the need to discharge pain or discomfort onto someone else. If uncle Tom asks about why you don’t have a girlfriend, it probably means that he is unhappy with his own relationships. If aunt Cathy criticizes your dress, she most likely isn’t crazy about her own appearance.
Holiday conversations are filled with projections. And projections are nothing but pointing the finger at someone else, so they don’t have to look at their own insecurities. Don’t get roped into their drama, and remind yourself that there’s nothing wrong with you.
2. Remember your allies and take control
If you anticipate uncomfortable conversations think about a couple of topics you want to discuss. Ponder who at the table might feel the same way you do. Group dynamics are all about alliances. Maybe your dad is just as tired of his brother’s rants as you are.
Intervene and distract at the first sign of annoyance. Don’t let it get out of hand. Get up from your seat to draw attention to you. Walk over to you father and show him a picture of your toddler’s Halloween dress, or a funny YouTube video. Involve your allies in a conversation about what they used to do as kids at Halloween. Group conversations flow with what people really want to talk about. And that’s usually not some crazy relative, but events and people who are close to their heart.
If you have the nerve (and you might not) to take aunt Cathy on, try to validate her experience. Notorious critics tend to soften as soon as they are shown compassion, especially if what they are used to is opposition.
If you’re involved in an ongoing toxic battle about politics, try a general statement like “it really is a shame what’s going on there” and don’t engage further. If you can’t hear the constant complaints about (fill in the blank) anymore, say “this really seems to get to you” and quickly change the topic.
When you change your perspective, from seeing an annoying person to looking at a human being who has gone through pain and disappointment everything opens. Your uncle may be bitter at times, but he has also been through a lot and he did the best he could. Your aunt may resort to criticism, but she has probably had her fair share of just that in her own life, and tried to rise above her own family legacy.
Nobody is perfect, but we can acknowledge that people want to grow and evolve. Even a Thanksgiving grinch.