Blog : Integration

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!

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!

Stop spinning round and round

Stop spinning round and round

Living under old belief systems that keep us stuck can be automatic for us. Mindfulness practice and other tools that assist you in accessing the power of your whole-brain can help you identify these destructive thought patterns so you can move forward instead of just spinning in place. When we become aware of them and their cause we can shed light on these ineffective thoughts, release them and jump off the carousel. From there you can replace them with constructive systems and continue onto the path you are craving to be on.

Here are a few steps to help you:

1st Step:  Quiet and Gentle check-in with your thoughts

Sit in a quiet place GENTLY notice where your mind takes you.  Being gentle and non-judgmental is important because any judgmental “thoughts of your thoughts” is going to feed the hurtful cycle. I know that sometimes the thought of being alone with our thoughts is intimidating in itself but trust me that much power lies in this quiet practice. Journaling, sharing them with a friend, and/or joining a supportive mindfulness group are great ways to practice this awareness process.

2nd Step: Reality Check

It’s AMAZING how untrue our thoughts can be.  Whether it’s an ingrained message from our childhood OR an irrational belief we hold of ourselves, or both, it can be quite life changing to recognize what thoughts we play over and over that aren’t even true.  Again, a professional along with support can really help you become aware of and confront these destructive patterns in a safe and structured environment. Individual counseling and groups with a mindfulness focus give you time and space to do exactly that.

 3rd Step:  Soft and Immediate Replacement

Now that you know what thoughts you don’t need, you need something more to interrupt the cycle. The next time those heavy, destructive thoughts creep in, try replacing them with one of these “ARTS of DISTRACTION.”

Deep Breath.  A Song. Affirmation/Mantra/Grateful thought. Engaging Your Senses (Which are all the right brain tools you can find in the creative brain challenge.)

4th Step:  Continual Practice

Like everything in life, practice makes better.  When you think uplifting and constructive thoughts, you have more energy, feel better and your mind feels clearer, fresher, like the Spring air. That renewal will free you from the past and take you to the place you’re longing to move into. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I promise it will become more and more natural each time you practice it.

 

*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.

 

Jennifer Carey EdS, LMHC

Jennifer Carey Ed.S., LMHC

Jennifer has been teaching and counseling individuals and groups for over a decade. Her counseling background combined with certificate as a Reiki Master Practitioner provides a strong foundation in helping others learn, heal and grow through mindfulness practices.

 

Beyond Black & White

Beyond Black & White

Judging ourselves. Others. It’s true. We all do it. A lot.

“That person is beautiful”.

“That person is mean”.

“I’m not good looking enough, rich enough or thin enough”.

“I’m right and you’re wrong”.

We can all relate to having these judgements and with little awareness find ourselves literally stuck in these belief systems/thought patterns. After all, we live in a society that’s built on laws, rules and many aspects of our lives are often seen as either black or white.

As you know from the recent blogs, there is a place for judgement in our thought process and our left brain sees to it that we understand things in that manner. There is a purpose for rules in society, for sure.

However, the real problem comes when we judge everything through a lens of black and white. These extreme outlooks can be a major cause for our discomfort and unbalance. Often the thought patterns aren’t factual, yet we treat everything is as if they are.

Learning to live more in the “gray” or in non-judgment can help us have a more healthy and balanced perspective. As a result, you can ease a lot of “extreme” stress, fear and sadness. It’s true.

So you ask: where and how can we access this place of gray thought and dichotomous perspective that brings us bliss? Our right brain. And the practice of mindfulness can help you access this powerful source in your right brain and bring you more balance, peace and contentment.

You will also find life more expansive and less limiting when you can think: “I’m right and so are you.” Or “there is a bigger picture than the specific problem I’m facing.” For me, this has been particularly helpful in my relationships. Both the relationship with myself and my relationships with others.

 

*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.

 

  Jennifer Carey EdS, LMHC

Jennifer Carey Ed.S., LMHC

Jennifer has been teaching and counseling individuals and groups for over a decade. Her counseling background combined with certificate as a Reiki Master Practitioner provides a strong foundation in helping others learn, heal and grow through mindfulness practices.

Imagination: From the Inside Out

Imagination: From the Inside Out

Did you know that imagination is one of the most important attributes of the human brain?

Think about it. Without imagination, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have created the iPad. Picasso would never have created his dazzling works of art. Without imagination, we wouldn’t have anything that nature hasn’t already provided for us.

Wikipedia describes imagination – the faculty of imagining – as “the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses such as sight, hearing, or other senses.”  Simply put, imagination is part of what makes us human.

With our increased research into how the brain functions, we’re getting closer to understanding how imagination works.

So what’s going on in our brains when we are imagining?

The brain is divided into two hemispheres: left and right. Though the hemispheres work in concert to create a unified sense of self and personality, each hemisphere actually attends to the world differently, and therefore processes information in distinctive ways. This provides us with great advantages, including the ability to understand a situation from many different perspectives.

Imagination is based on the creative power of opposition, and is a result of the synthesis between the right and left hemispheres.

The right hemisphere can take in new information from our surroundings, and see the “whole picture”. The left hemisphere is the great “unpacker” of that information; it breaks information down, sorting, categorizing and analyzing.

However, there is a big catch: the information has to go from the right to the left, and then BACK to the right in order to synthesize.

Imagination, insight and creativity all require this integration of the left and right hemispheres.

Let’s break this down:

Brain integration follows a simple formula = R > L > R

Step 1: Right hemisphere (R): New information is attended to in the environment

Step 2: Left hemisphere (L): Analysis, or the “unpacking” of what was perceived by the right hemisphere

Step 3: Right hemisphere (R): Information is transferred back to the right hemisphere to be understood within the context of the whole

In modern society, we often get “stuck” in the left hemisphere and have difficulty finding ways to transfer information back to the right, thereby eliminating step 3. Sadly, that means that we miss out on significant benefits, including increased insight and imagination.

So, how do we “step back to the right” and get unstuck?

One simple place to start is to get into your body and into nature. The right hemisphere is directly linked to our bodies, and perceives and differentiates living things from mechanical things. Going for a walk outside, hiking in the woods, or simply sitting in the backyard listening to the birds sing can all help you get back “into your right mind”.

Today – maybe even right now! – take five minutes to notice your body (not just your head), and shift your attention to the sights and sounds of nature. Live in the city? No problem. Just looking at pictures of nature can make a difference. (Not sure about all this? See Rebecca Clay’s research.)

If you’d like to learn more ways to “step to the right” and discover all the benefits of making it a conscious part of your life, visit Imagination Retreats, 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!

Why the Right-Brain Matters

Why the Right-Brain Matters

Through patient and animal studies, it has been discovered that the two hemispheres of the brain see and respond to the world in divergent manners.

Why is it that an organ whose job it is to communicate divided?

The left hemisphere sees things narrowly and focused, while the right views the whole. This was advantageous to us as a species because it allowed us to break down tasks and learn complex sequences, while at the same time being aware of our surroundings.

Where you can begin to see hemispheric differences isn’t necessarily on an everyday level, where the brain works in concert for most functions, but over time in the dominant world view. It is akin to a large ship that shifts its course. Turning just a few degrees alters its direction dramatically over time.

You can mark throughout history which hemisphere took the lead (for instance, an expansion of the right brain’s way of being in the world during the Renaissance with a shifting towards the left during the Reformation and The Enlightenment).

There had, in the past, been a correcting force – like a pendulum that swings and arcs back in the other direction. However, something is amiss lately. There is no longer a system of negative feedback (the correcting mechanism that shifts the direction of the swinging pendulum).

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been swinging further and further to the left, and the further we swing to the left, the less likely are we to find an “escape route.” This is because our external world, which used to have the capacity to return us to the right, is becoming more and more dominated by what is essentially “left.”

We are now living in a world that is a mirror of a left-reared society and notions associated with anything other than what is “left” are seen as trite and not-to-be-trusted (dare I say “intuition” should be trusted!).

How do we begin to reset the balance?

We begin by practicing returning information to the right-hemisphere, where it can again be viewed within context and a whole. And, yes, this might initially seem strange, silly and weird. It will certainly feel different.

Can we begin to relax our yearning for certainty, even just a little, so that we can sit with the necessary tension of dichotomies? Can we begin to find moments of pause and stillness so that we may receive that which is unsought? Can we dare to be courageous enough to be seen as naïve so we can alter the direction of where we are headed?

Thanks to Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, for inspiring this article.

 

*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!

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+.

Integration & Flamenco

Integration & Flamenco

The written history of flamenco only goes back about 200 years, but there are oral accounts of flamenco that are much older. There is much debate about “what is true flamenco.” My aim is not even to attempt to answer that question, which is a very slippery slope indeed. Rather,

I would like to share with you what the spirit of flamenco means to me and why it helps explain the concept of integration.

Flamenco originated as an art form in Andalusia (southern part of Spain) as an expression of the cast-aside, the Gypsies (Gitanos), Sephardic Jews and outcast Moors. It began as song (cante) – more like a call or cry – and percussive rhythm, often a wooden cane beating in time on the floor. Only later, were the guitar and dance incorporated. Flamenco is ever-evolving and still finds itself making headlines. (Click here to read a recent example of the fluid and contrasting nature of flamenco and how it is being used as political statement.)

Flamenco is many divergent things…

and one, admittedly, includes polka dots, large skirts and dancing for tourists for money. For me, however, flamenco means not only living with, but celebrating, dichotomies. It is recognition and incorporation of many different parts, the crux of “integration.” Integrating is about bringing multiple pieces together in some sort of unified fashion – even if that “something” is in flux.

Flamenco is – no joke – about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It kicks my butt regularly, yet I am still dedicated to being a student of its many mysteries. I know it will take a lifetime and beyond to learn, and I’ve become okay with that. I’m forced not only to think about, feel, and hear the complex rhythm (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…) all the while moving my feet, legs, hips, arms, hands and head – optimally with duende (this is an entire other article, but roughly translated means “authenticity/spirit”). Flamenco is fiery and fierce, yet also has moments of surrender and true softness. I love that it makes fun of itself. It is first and foremost music, then movement. I come up against my many resistances while learning it. To name just a few of these inner obstacles: the “analyst” that keeps a safe distance from things that might feel uncomfortably true,  the perfectionist who has a hard time letting go, the timid part that would rather stand back than take center stage, the part that is quick to judge and the one who wants to quit. But, I don’t. I keep coming back for what sometimes feels like torture. It is a genuine type of therapy for me.

I practice facing these parts, learning from them and inviting them all in.

And then there are those moments when it all comes together – left and right, light and dark, absolute freedom from thought, feeling and time, a complete surrender of my body to the invitation of the music.  I’m dancing – not just the right steps, but I’ve become a part of this continual flow of the art form of Flamenco. These moments are rare and come with numbers of hours of dedication, but they happen. This is integration for me.

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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!