Blog : Retreats and Coaching

The Pain of Gratitude

The Pain of Gratitude

There is something fundamentally challenging about gratitude that goes beyond remembering to practice it. If I truly admit how damn fortunate I am, I usually experience a myriad of feelings: pure love, then guilt, and then sheer terror.

Guilt and terror? That might surprise you. After all, we practice gratitude to help us become more positive and serene, and more appreciative of the good things in our lives. But sometimes, when I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the people, places and things in my life, I can become paralyzed by the thought of all of it just…vanishing. And that’s a terrifying thought indeed.

I don’t believe this stems from a fear of abandonment, or an attachment disorder issue. Rather, it comes from a deep understanding that everything is temporary. My four-year old daughter, jumping up and down naked on the bed, laughing with pure glee, will soon be a memory. My almost-seventeen-year-old cat, who likes to snuggle in the mornings, will also be gone. As will my partner someday.

So, the question becomes: how do I allow myself to fully open and experience the absolute love and gratitude that abounds in these moments, while also fully comprehending that it will never be the same again?

This is not a rhetorical, philosophical question. Really, how do we receive and embrace the good, when we know it can’t last?

I’m reminded of a Carl Jung quote regarding dichotomy (the division between two mutually exclusive or contradictory situations): “But there is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites…”

When I practice tools that help me become more comfortable with dichotomy, I’m better able to sit with this tension without reacting. These reactions typically take the form of any number of distractions and unproductive behavior, including negativity.

While our brains are wired for negativity and, as I mentioned in a previous post, it kept our ancestors alive, we now know we can actually rewire our brains. Ironically, gratitude is one of the best ways to accomplish this. (See Rick Hanson’s work for more on the brain’s negativity bias).

However, if the experience of gratitude can be painful, then where does that leave us?

There are a few mind/brain hacks you can use to hold dichotomy or, as I call it, brain integration. To give an oversimplified description, our brains have two hemispheres, the left and the right, and they quite literally understand the world differently. The left hemisphere sees things in black and white, yes or no, one way or the other. But the right hemisphere allows for a multitude of shades and colors. It can tolerate the tension of division, and can begin to detect webs, or patterns, that are impossible to see when viewed only in a linear fashion (e.g., yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad, etc.).

So how do we facilitate the integration of these two parts of our brains? Well, we have to start by flexing the hemisphere that is most atrophied, which is – unsurprisingly – the right hemisphere. When we have an awareness that these right-brain experiences are 1. available, and 2. valuable, we can bring back the subtle, yet powerful, knowledge of the right hemisphere into our everyday experiences.

How do we begin to “listen” to the vast amount of information offered to us from the right-hemisphere?

First, we have to listen in a different way, as the messages we receive will “sound” different from what we’re used to. For instance, our bodies speak volumes and are directly connected to the right hemisphere. We can start to become aware of the ways our bodies “talk” to us. You might feel queasy when you’re about to give a presentation at work. Or you get goosebumps when watching a scary movie.

Our intuition is also talking to us all the time. Intuition has gotten a bad rap over the years, with many people feeling it’s “airy fairy” or “woo-woo”. However, our intuition is actually “the ability to understand something immediately”. It’s a sense of knowing. And it’s the way the right hemisphere works: by instantly taking in and comprehending the whole picture. Think about the feeling you get when you know someone is lying to you. You might not have proof, but you just know. Or when you get a really good “feeling” about an interview candidate. Eureka moments are possible in this state!

I’m not suggesting that analysis and mental dissection, which are classic left-hemisphere attributes, are not valuable. They absolutely are. However, we tend to get “stuck” in this way of knowing without allowing or acknowledging input from the right hemisphere. As a result, we miss out on the opportunity to understand the situation from a different perspective; one in which the whole (or gestalt) can be understood.

The right hemisphere doesn’t use everyday language (which is housed in the left hemisphere) to communicate. It usually “speaks” without words – you get a gut feeling, or an image or diagram pops into your head seemingly out of nowhere. So, we have to listen in different ways:

  • Making art

  • Creativity (crafting, cooking, gardening, etc.)

  • Spending time in nature

  • Stepping back to see the whole picture – what I call “zooming out”

  • Being embodied (practicing yoga, dancing, etc.)

  • Listening to music

These are just a few ways you can practice tuning into your brain’s right hemisphere.

Bringing this information into our daily lives does take a certain amount of trust. However, when we begin to consciously listen and make the effort to become familiar with what might at first feel very foreign, uncomfortable, and maybe even undefined or wishy-washy, and then implement this knowledge, more will follow.

The right brain can become a storehouse of valuable wisdom. And, it can be really fun (humor and wit are also right-brain attributes!). With a bit of practice, we can become more familiar and comfortable with the opaque and the dichotomous. And getting comfortable operating from this place can feel like coming home.

Ultimately, we’ll be able to more easily manage the sometimes terrifying feelings that can come up when practicing gratitude. And that’s something we can be truly thankful for.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

Walking Towards What Scares Me

Walking Towards What Scares Me

Like many people, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the love and relationship department.

Once, many years ago, I fell hard and fast for a man. He was smart, funny, handsome, creative, and attentive. And, the chemistry between us was so intense, it was like fireworks on top of fireworks. He wasn’t just good-looking, he was positively dreamy, and I thought he was way out of my league.

I thought I was in love. But deep down, I was holding back. I started to tell myself that the timing wasn’t right, that I wasn’t ready for a relationship. Or maybe it was him that wasn’t ready.  But the truth is that I was afraid. And not just afraid; I was terrified. I was scared that he didn’t like me as much as I liked him, and that made me feel even more vulnerable. I was sure I’d be emotionally devastated if things went wrong between us.

So I sabotaged things and ran from a relationship that could have become something special. I will never know, because I let my fear rule.

I remember recognizing myself in this line from Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful song, Hallelujah: “But all I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.”

I beat myself up about running away from that relationship for longer than I care to admit. Because even though I felt like I’d glimpsed a possible future that was filled with all the things I’d wanted, I bailed anyway.

I still carried a lot of guilt from past relationship mistakes, so I didn’t feel worthy of the kind of love I craved. I wasn’t ready for it when it presented itself, because I had more work to do: more healing, more work on changing unhealthy patterns, and ultimately, learning to forgive myself.

I had chosen the most familiar path to me – the path of yearning and remorse – rather than the path of living fully. I chose it because it was safe, even if it was painful.

At a certain point, I realized that the story I had spun about past hurts, and the guilt I held so close, was keeping me stuck. Ultimately, I had to question whether that story was true. I had to confront myself and take as an objective, non-reactive look at the facts as I could – the good stuff and the not-so-pretty.

Was this scary? Extremely. The sense of frozen apprehension I felt at the thought of looking at my “mistakes” – or, more accurately, the distractions I had created – was nothing compared to what I felt when I finally took an honest and unflinching look at myself. That fear showed up as a knee-wobbling, stomach-churning feeling every time I took a step forward. Events that I now know were “opportunities for growth”. These included a time when I broke up with someone I loved, who loved me too, because we wanted different things. Another time when I saw clearly how my attitude towards money was intertwined with my relationship with my parents. A time when I confronted people I cared about who had lied to me. And times when I apologized, from the heart, to those I had hurt.

Ultimately, I chose to learn from my past. I didn’t want to sabotage any more relationships. I became mindful of my patterns of grasping and running, and paid close attention to how I felt when faced with something I was afraid to do.

How did I do it? I got good therapy. I practiced what I knew. I trusted the process. I forgave. I surrendered (some) control.

I came to recognize that the sensations I experience in my body when I feel fear – pounding heart, shallow breathing, impulse to flee – are the same ones I experience when I am presented with an opportunity for growth.

When these feelings come up, my first instinct – like most people – is to turn and run in the opposite direction. I did just that for years, and then I’d sit around wondering why my life never changed.

As time went on, I began to realize that I’d experience that fight-or-flight sensation every time I was about to do something I had been working really hard to bring to fruition. Or, when something I wanted to happen, like a new relationship, looked like it was finally going to come through.

Our brains have a negativity bias, and we’re hardwired toward pessimism. Our ancestors stayed alive because they not only ran from snakes, but also from sticks that looked like snakes. So our natural instinct is to run away from the things that scare us. But in modern life, many of our fears are based on nothing but instinct – not facts – and most of them never come to pass.

All that goes a long way to explain why, at the moment I’m on the threshold of something I really, really want, I feel that instinct to cut and run.

About six years after my ill-fated relationship, I had another chance at love. I was still scared, even though the circumstances were different and I felt more “ready”. But I had become self-aware enough to recognize my fear for what it was. And this time, I didn’t let it make the decision for me. I still felt it, but I realized that having this experience meant more to me than staying “safe.”

“I have to walk towards this,” I thought. And I did.

Was it hard? Absolutely. But it didn’t kill me or even wound me. In fact, the fear lessened as soon as I made the decision to move through it.

That man and I are still in a deeply committed partnership, and we have a beautiful daughter together. He teaches me, on an almost daily basis, what love really means. It isn’t always about fireworks (although those are nice, too). It’s more often about showing up, even when it’s hard.

Proving to myself that I could “feel the fear and do it anyway” is an experience I will never forget, and one that serves me to this day. Once I broke through the fear, I knew I didn’t have to let it rule any longer.

Growth opportunities continue to present themselves, as I dare to dream big dreams for my life and my business, and take one step after another – even though I can’t see all the way down the road. Do those feelings of terror still come up? Yes – every single time. But now I know that they signal a chance to engage with life on a more profound level. So I take a deep breath and keep walking, moving through my fear, instead of letting it stop me in my tracks.

This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal.

*If you enjoyed this article, you might like our upcoming Imagination Retreat, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own healing and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

How are Purpose, Universal Flow and Dirt Related?

How are Purpose, Universal Flow and Dirt Related?

I recently watched an excellent documentary on dirt – or soil, to be more precise – called Symphony of the Soil. The film offers a different way to think about agriculture, challenging the “rules” of the past 7,000 years and presenting a true paradigm shift. It was definitely worth the watch!

The film got me thinking about all the ways that humans have devised to dominate, engineer and take from the land. Farming is one example. The Industrial Revolution is another. In short, we’ve lived with this paradigm of dominating and taking for a very long time.

So it’s no wonder that many of us, if not most, came to believe that in order to get what we wanted out of life we had to “take it”. Follow the rules. Climb the ladder. But do we really feel happy and fulfilled as a result?

Study after study shows that happiness and fulfillment are not a result of unlimited wealth and health. Rather, they are the byproduct when our focus is elsewhere – on a broader empathetic attention on things we care about.

In Symphony of the Soil, they suggest that if life as we know it is to continue, we must stop behaving in the ways we’ve been conditioned to behave.

For example, farmers could choose to cultivate their crops in ways that are actually sustainable and healthy for the soil. One way to do this is to “give back” to the soil, in forms such as compost. Similarly, if we want to live truly happy lives, we must make a mental shift in order to go from a life of dominating and taking to one of giving back.

Our entire universe is a web of interconnectedness. It makes no sense for us to impose our desires on nature without taking nature into account. In embracing a cooperative role, rather than a ruling or dominating one, we will, as Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi so beautifully states, “feel the relief of the exile who is finally returning home.”

So then…what if happiness is actually a dichotomy? What if it’s the delicate balance between reflection and focused attention, and the immersion in a chosen set of goals? And if, as suggested by Csikszentmihalyi, those goals are truly aligned with our purpose, then we can actually merge with the universal flow. It’s in this “sweet spot” that we find focus, as well as openness and the ability to be fully present.

Therefore, consider the idea that happiness and fulfillment are a result of experiencing life right now, of growing and learning and giving back. This is the vow of the bodhisattva.

If you’re curious about how you can get back in touch with – or discover – your purpose, and how you can live from your sweet spot, join us for our Imagination Intensive! From October 13 -16th, we’ll lead you through a transformational weekend on Anna Maria Island, filled with activities, exercises and meditations to help you reconnect with your intuition and creativity, and get clear on your authentic purpose. And there will be plenty of beach time, too! Visit www.ImaginationRetreats.com to learn more and register.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

How Distracted Am I?

How Distracted Am I?

In modern Western society, we often find ourselves in a permanent state of unfulfilled desire. We are offered continuous distractions and stimulations that mimic reality, such as mass leisure, mass culture, and mass media.

Constant intrusions and interruptions – now the norm in our culture – drive up stress, deplete mental and emotional reserves and shrink our attention spans.

Instead of directing our energy towards personal growth and achieving complex goals, we instead focus on the activities above, which absorb mental energy without providing anything substantive in return. This behavior can leave you feeling even more depleted and disheartened.

Bottom-up attention, in which something or someone other than you dictates what you focus on, is part of our brain’s survival apparatus. It alerts us to potential danger in our surroundings; for example, when you hear a siren or a car backfire.

Bottom-up attention kept our ancestors alive. It instantly shifts our focus to a potential threat. This issue is when our attention is continuously hijacked by these types of alerts (such as the “ding” on your phone when you receive a message).

Can you relate to this? And are you wondering what the alternative could be?

“Top-down” attention is when you set the terms of engagement. In this scenario, you are in control of where you direct your attention, and you’re able to focus on a specific, chosen set of stimuli. This is also known as concentration!

The opposite of distraction is the ability to align your thoughts, intentions, and feelings towards the same goal. This produces an experience of harmony and flow. To do this, though, you must be able to concentrate and “order your consciousness”.

Each one of us has the power to decide whether mental order will come from the outside (bottom-up, with little control) or the inside (top-down, making conscious choices based on personal skill and knowledge).

A complex self is one that succeeds in the type of mental resilience that enables one to switch between bottom-up to top-down attention. This can be achieved with training.

We all have the ability, and in my opinion the responsibility, to create ourselves. We are a direct result of how we invest our mental energy. Understanding how to create ourselves is our most important skill!

That’s why it’s vital to ask yourself, How distracted am I?” With the ever-growing onslaught of disturbances, both digital and physical, it’s more important than ever to determine the answer to that question.

To assess your current level of distraction, download the infographic here!

 

*If you enjoyed this article, you might like our upcoming Imagination Retreat, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own creativity and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

The Secret Revealed in 350 Words

The Secret Revealed in 350 Words

The REAL Secret Revealed

The Secret, a film and best-selling book by Rhonda Byrne, is based on the Law of Attraction. One of the major tenets of The Secret is that positive thinking can create life-changing results, including increased happiness, wealth and improved health.

Now, I’m all for changing our thinking. By becoming more mindful of our thoughts and how they influence our lives, we can transform them from unhelpful, repetitive stories that don’t serve us into empowering beliefs that help us live our best lives.

That said, in this article I want to focus on the The Law of Attention rather than the Law of Attraction. Attention is a hot topic in a number of disciplines, such as cognitive psychology and neuroscience. It has also been discussed by philosophers for eons.

A broad definition of attention is “the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information…while ignoring other perceivable information”. As humans, we have an impressive, but still discrete, amount of brain processing power. Attention is how we allocate those limited resources.

Let’s pause and take that in for a moment, because this concept is incredibly important.

What we focus our attention on determines how we come to see and understand the world. In other words, the power of our attention determines what will, or will not, appear in our consciousness. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all influenced by this!

Our lives depend on the direction and nature of our attention, because what we see and who we are is a direct result of what we focus on. We are truly partners in this co-creative process.

We have a responsibility – an extremely important one – to tend to the garden of our own minds. And, we have the ability to pull up the weeds and plant flowers in their place. This isn’t necessarily easy work; it takes awareness and consistency (two things that most of us are inclined to avoid!).

So my question for you is, “How will you choose to use your attention?” This question can open the door to making the desired changes in your life by changing your mind – one synapse at a time!

 

*If you enjoyed this article, you might like our upcoming Imagination Retreat, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own creativity and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

How to Bust Out of a Rut in 3 Easy Steps

How to Bust Out of a Rut in 3 Easy Steps

Feeling uninspired at the job? Bored with your relationship? Daily grind got ya down? Don’t panic! It’s normal to get stuck in a rut every now and then. By definition, a “rut” is “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” Here are 3 simple ways to breathe life back into a situation that has lost its oomph and bust out of that rut!

1) Switch up your routines.

Doing everyday tasks a little differently helps awaken your brain to the present moment, fresh perspectives and creative solutions. So go ahead and put on your right shoe before your left; brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand; alter your commute; and once you get to your destination, be sure to open the door without using your hands!!

2) Bust a new move.

If you’re a ballerina, take a tennis lesson. If you haven’t shaken your groove thang in twenty years, hit up You Tube for a ‘how to crunk dance in three easy steps.’ Gym rat? Take a Yin Yoga class. Our brains grow by trying new things. When you challenge mind and body in new and uncomfortable ways, the growth is exponential. That narrow rut won’t be able to hold you.

3) Send out an SOS!

Ruts thrive in isolation and the notion that you have to handle everything on your own. You may convince yourself that it’s more hassle to involve others even as the rut seems to close in around you. Start with a trusted friend. Tell them you’re stuck in a rut and ask them to help you shake things up by planning a surprise day together where you do something out of the ordinary. Take it to the next level by being blindfolded during the car ride. Letting go of being in control, trusting another person, and engaging some of your lesser used senses will catapult you of that rut!

There are countless little and large ways to ease or thrust yourself out of a rut. An easy way to remember the rut remedies are: wake up, shake up & join up. Ask yourself the following 3 questions: “what tweaks to my routine wake me up to the present moment; what new movements (or sounds or colors) can I make that will shake up the dullness of my comfort zone; and, who can I call on to help me reconnect with my aliveness and creativity?” Go forth and bust a rut, and let us know how it goes!

* If you liked this article, you might like our retreats.

 

Camille-Headshot-1 Camille Bianco MA, NCC

Camille Bianco MA, NCC earned her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology & Art Therapy from Naropa University. She began formal training in Art Therapy and Meditation in 2000 and continues to incorporate researched-based creative expression and mindfulness approaches into her professional consulting practices. Connect with Camille on Goolge+.

Poiesis or:  How I learned to Tolerate Change “and Love the Bomb”

Poiesis or: How I learned to Tolerate Change “and Love the Bomb”

(For those of you who understand the title and photo reference, I applaud your superior taste in film.) 😉

We recently had to move. We were given just over two weeks’ notice that our old office needed “unforeseen renovations”. Gulp, cringe, yikes. We made it through these last two weeks intact and grateful – but, not without some cursing and deep breathing. It reminded me of what I discuss with clients almost daily: being receptive to change (and learning to “love”, or at least tolerate, “the bomb”).

Poiesis,

roughly translated from Ancient Greek, means art or “to make” and was originally a verb. It is also the basis of our modern day word “poetry”. I’m going to attempt to explain why poiesis is important in learning to tolerate change. The poiesis in which I’m referring is poiesis as described by Nietzsche and Heideggar, as opposed to Aristotle (who ranked poiesis last in terms of “knowing”) or Plato (who likened it to madness). It is a “bringing-forth”, the “blooming of the blossom” (Heidegger), or when something moves away from one thing to become another.

Nietzsche goes on to explain the relationship between Apollo and Dionysus, both sons of Zeus in Greek mythology. Apollo is the god of reason and the logical, while Dionysus is the god of chaos and the emotions. The content of all great poiesis/art is based on the interplay between these two forces. It is the relationship between them, not necessarily the rivalry, which elucidates that harmony can be found within chaotic experience, which also could be described as change, creation, or a coming forth.

If we compare life (an innumerable series of changes) to an art piece…

and us to the artists responsible for this artwork, the role of the artist (framed within Dionysian poiesis) is not to impose a pre-existing form upon matter (logical, rational Apollo), but to allow the material to find its own shape. And, unless I’m willing to let go of preconceived notions, I cannot be open to what will arrive. This though is generally downright scary, and we often respond to fear by trying to predict and control it. However, it is through the experience of surrender to a process, a kind of ego-death and chaotic fragmentation, that a new form is found. Furthermore, the artwork in the making cannot be predicted, and it is only afterwards that it makes logical sense. As Stephen Levine so poetically states, “If we are not willing to undergo the experience of coming apart, we will not be able to experience ourselves as fully alive.” The Apollo/Dionysus relationship is not either, or (logical/rational/control versus chaos/emotion/instinct). Rather, there can be “productive chaos”, in which new structures emerge – necessary for the continual formation of this art piece called life.

How does this relate to constructing and moving offices in less than 3 weeks?

Did I often try to impose ego and sheer will, determination and control on the process? Ah-ha. (I am a Taurus after all.) Did it help? Well…we were able to get a lot done in a small amount of time. Could I have predicted the outcome of where, how or what our new office home would be? Nope. Did I have to surrender to the process of becoming (poiesis), the chaos of being in-between? There was no other choice. Did something new and wonderful arrive, which goes far beyond my pure assertion of will? Absolutely. Could I have saved myself a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety by “letting go” of preconceived notions a bit more? Yep! One of my many lessons through this process is that of wu-wei, or non-action according to Taoist thought, an acting that is also a surrendering to what is taking place –the both, and of Apollo and Dionysus and a yielding to what arrives.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

 

Gas Tank Compassion

Gas Tank Compassion

As a therapist, I’m constantly asking people to practice compassionate curiosity about the places that scare them. I believe that people are inherently good and intelligent. That’s why I’m so interested in those moments where we find ourselves acting “out of character” or doing something that we know falls short of our values. Fortunately, I have frequent opportunities to observe and experiment with this in my own life.

Just the other day, I noticed a wild impatience rise up in me at the gas pump.

I was running late. My tank was near empty. I had somewhere important to be. Each of the ten pumps at the station was mysteriously operating at an impossibly slow rate. Initially, I blamed the station attendant, but he was engaging with such kindness, that it was hard to stay mad at him. I thought of the owner of this broken-down establishment and how he’s probably taking advantage of the people in this far- from-affluent part of town. I didn’t get much satisfaction from that either. I had neither a short supply nor a delay in the pumping out of rationales to fuel my anger. With a death grip on the handle, I counted in rage: one drop, pause, two drops, pause.

Then I remembered: in breath, pause, out breath, pause.

I conceded to do this simple (and probably useless) meditation one time before I would tear out of there to find a normal gas station. At the pause on top of the in breath I could not help but feel a fullness in my lungs. This led me to notice discomfort and tightness in the area beneath my ribcage called the celiac plexus. It’s the “pit in the stomach” feeling. There I was, reconnecting with my “brain in the gut” or enteric nervous system (which houses 100 million neurons and more than 90% of the body’s serotonin, among other big wig neurotransmitters.) The brain in my skull had been determined to ignore the fear in my gut brain, because I had to be somewhere important and do something important. I certainly did not have time to feel scared.

It was too late. I had to exhale and pause. On the exhale I felt a release of tension. In the pause I felt emptiness, and in that spaciousness, I felt fear. In the pure experience of fear, I had no need to avoid, eradicate or change anything. And, surprise, surprise, it did not consume or derail me. By feeling in this stripped-down kind of a way, self-compassion and loving-kindness naturally arose. I felt empathy for myself, and that’s when everything opened up.

I became aware of the woman beside me who was laughing and speaking powerful words of wisdom. I felt gratitude and gentleness arising in my heart and mind which made me much better prepared to do that important thing I had to do. Previously, I had been expending a great deal of mental and physical energy in not feeling fear. Whenever I deny or squelch a feeling, I’m also cutting off full access to my cognitive and interpersonal resources. When I acknowledge what is alive and present, even when it includes discomfort, I allow space for that inherent intelligence and resourcefulness to emerge. When the brain in our skulls works in harmony with the brain in our guts and we approach our pure experience with curiosity and compassion, we are smarter, fiercer and freer to shine.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

Photo by Geoff Livingston

Camille-Headshot-1

Camille Bianco MA, NCC

Camille Bianco MA, NCC earned her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology & Art Therapy from Naropa University. She began formal training in Art Therapy and Meditation in 2000 and continues to incorporate researched-based creative expression and mindfulness approaches into her professional consulting practices. Connect with Camille on Goolge+.

Quiet the Analyst & Honor Your Shadow:

Quiet the Analyst & Honor Your Shadow:

5 fun and safe ways to express your “wild thing”

What is your Shadow, and how can you honor it? In Jungian psychology the Shadow is an unconscious aspect of your personality. The conscious ego does not fully identify with this aspect of self. However, our Shadow is often the seat of creativity and recognition and integration of our “darker side” can actually be freeing and revitalizing.

While the Analyst in us – the part that wants to “make sense if it all” and interpret the meanderings of our minds and psyches – means well, it isn’t always helpful. Sometimes it is important not to “tame” these “darker” parts, but rather to find healthy, fun and appropriate ways of expressing them. Here are 5 ways to express your inner wild thing:

1.       Howl at the moon

I mean it. Go outside. Feel your feet on the earth and take time to moon gaze. If you want to make a sound – do it. You might be startled to hear yourself and – dare I say it – even enlightened by these sounds, be it guttural or simply a whisper.

 

2.       Messy your hands

Grab some acrylic paints or chalk pastels and simply play with mixing the colors using only your fingers. Absorb yourself and delight in how the colors mix. Notice how your fingers slide over the paper when covered with this media. Don’t worry. It isn’t “supposed” to be anything. It is just fun.

 

3.       Dance unabashedly

Put on a tune that you can’t help but move to. We all have at least one. I’m a little embarrassed to admit mine. They are The Lion Sleeps Tonight (listen to the original Zulu version) and, yes, ACDC Thunderstruck. Find a clear space where you can move as much as you want to. Let go. Your body will do the rest – if you let it. My inner head banger deserves to be let out on occasion, if only in the confines of my home. (This song actually came on during my partner’s and my first date. He said it was a “high risk” move to begin to head bang to it, but I literally could not help it. I’m glad he didn’t judge me – too much – for it.)

 

4.        Free write

This can be a bit tricky for people. It is finding time to disengage from our internal critic and allow ourselves to just write – about anything. There is absolutely no thought about grammar, spelling or punctuation. Our 8th grade English teacher would hate this. You might even notice that your penmanship looks different. That is a good thing. You have tapped into a different part of your brain.

 

5.       Go on an adventure

It can be in as little as 5 minutes or much, much longer. Take time to not have an agenda and see what you might experience and learn. Have fun!

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

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Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!

 

 

Mindfulness and Growth

Mindfulness and Growth

As a counselor and art therapist, I am honored to work with people who are seeking greater happiness, improved health and well-being and more fulfilling relationships and careers. I often describe my job in the following way: I help people cultivate the optimal conditions for growth and healing to occur. While the conditions are unique to the individual, one of the most powerful practices that I teach is mindful awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations.

Consider for a moment something you do habitually that you would like to change.

Have you been meaning to eat more whole foods? Perhaps you feel you deserve a loving relationship and want to stop dating people who mistreat you. Another common experience is to wish you can “let go” of anger or resentment you feel toward the person who wronged you. Despite your strong will and determination, you find yourself pulling into the donut shop, calling your ex, or seething at the mere thought of that person who brings out the worst in you.

Before we order that donut…

dial the number or vent to our friends about how awful that wrong-doer is, there is a very crucial moment. There is a moment of discomfort. Within this moment of discomfort resides great opportunity. The opportunity is to experience the arising and dissolving of that discomfort. When we bring our objective awareness to present moment experience, we notice that a feeling or sensation that seemed to have no end actually does have a life cycle, however brief it may be. It will likely arise again later that day or with the very next inhale. With regular practice of mindful awareness, it has been shown that those moments “in-between” increase in duration. We will notice anger or craving and then notice no anger and no craving. As such, the practice begins to poke holes in experiences that had felt solid and lasting. We begin to experience (not just in theory but in practice) spaciousness even in tight places.

By applying objective awareness to pure experience, we liberate ourselves…

even for just a micro-moment, of any punitive and shaming inner dialogues that, while well-intended, actually impede growth and change. Approaching even the least appealing aspects of our experience with an open-minded curiosity carves out a little space that wasn’t there previously. From this more spacious perspective, we can see new options and choose to act in ways that are more aligned with our values. People report feeling more calm, confident and competent in handling the inherent challenges of life. After nearly twenty years in the field of personal growth and development, I can say with confidence that mindful awareness is one of the most empowering tools that I both practice and teach.

* If you liked this article, you might like our upcoming retreats.

 

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Camille Bianco MA, NCC

Camille Bianco MA, NCC earned her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology & Art Therapy from Naropa University. She began formal training in Art Therapy and Meditation in 2000 and continues to incorporate researched-based creative expression and mindfulness approaches into her professional consulting practices. Connect with Camille on Goolge+.