Tag Archives: awareness

K is for Knowing

This weekend I watched the entire first season of Unorthodox, the story of a young Jewish woman who, fed up with the strictures and demands of the religion she was raised in, leaves her husband, her family, her religion, and her country, to go halfway around the world in order to live the way she knows she must.

I believe we are all born with an innate sense of knowing. We come into this world knowing what we need, what we like, who we are. And over time, we learn that not everyone we encounter wants us to be our true selves. In fact, while our parents (if we are lucky) may cheer us on, spur us toward our developmental milestones, they also have their own set of hopes and dreams about who we will someday be.

And then we start school, where our teachers have their own set of expectations, as do the institutions we enter. Sometimes our natural, inborn inclinations are not even given an opportunity to manifest themselves because we lack exposure to the very things we desire, deep in our bones, in our DNA. We may be hands-on learners in a stringently intellectual environment; or we may be poets in a STEM school or STEM types in an art-based school.

We may be natural athletes born into a world without fields or playgrounds or into a family that does not value the human body and its capabilities.

And yet we yearn, and we find ourselves having to trust that inner voice that guides us to discover our true essences.

We encounter powerful structures in place that reinforce what we have been taught by our families, our peers, our teachers, our religion, our culture. Defying the norms, in whatever form we find them requires courage and bravery and self-trust.  We all encounter obstacles that demand we squelch our inner voice, our sense of knowing, and insist we go along to get along, that we let go of what we know to be true in order to cling to an illusion of safety.

Eventually, this tension between what we know to be true and what we do to get along becomes untenable, unbearable, and we have to let go of what we have been told will save us to cling to our inner wisdom. Whether that knowledge is rooted in our bodies, our minds, or our experiences, if we don’t pay attention to it, acknowledge it, it becomes overwhelming anxiety, it becomes debilitating depression. It can become an eating disorder, OCD, a way of asserting control, any control.

When we feel anxious and out of control, it might feel easier to reach for a pill or alcohol or weed to kill that feeling (see J is for . . .). Anything usually feels easier than trusting ourselves, but that’s because we have a lifetime of being told we’re not ok, not trustworthy, that we’re too much or not enough. I ask clients if they have this little voice, this sensation in the pit of their stomach or a voice in their head or a tingling in their arms when they have to make a hard decision. Most say yes, but not everyone takes the voice seriously.

Often the voice of knowing is conflated with selfishness and the belief that listening to ourselves and doing what is right for us will take something away from someone else. That we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves. That others should get first crack at our energies and our resources. But we cannot be good stewards or caretakers or even good friends if we ignore what we know and deprive ourselves of what we need to nourish ourselves. If I am a painter who never paints or a writer who doesn’t write or a runner who doesn’t run or an engineer who is not allowed to design, then what are our gifts for?

Maybe try to spend this time alone and in quarantine listening to the voice that knows, the one deeply buried that we so often ignore and push down. Hear it. Follow it. It doesn’t just know you, it IS you.

G is for Grace

“Can you give yourself some grace?” It’s a question I ask many clients regularly when they come to me to talk about whatever is causing them emotional pain. Sometimes they look back at me in confusion.  “What do you mean, grace?”

“Can you give yourself as much compassion in this moment, or any moment when you’re feeling badly, as you would give your best friend?”

Many of us have negative self-talk “tapes” that run through our heads constantly. Often, we aren’t even aware of the messages we are giving ourselves. Think about it. The last time you made a mistake, said the wrong thing, burned dinner (I did that just the other day), couldn’t get out of bed because anxiety was sitting so hard on your chest, what was the conversation you had with yourself?

Would we say those same words out loud to our friend, our partner, our child, even an acquaintance who had come to us for help or advice? No? Then why do we treat ourselves so poorly? Shouldn’t we give ourselves as much kindness and grace as we afford others?

Many times, we aren’t even aware of the grinding negativity we heap upon ourselves. I mean, we aren’t generally saying anything out loud, but if we tune in what do we hear? And whose voices are we hearing? It could be our third-grade teacher berating us for having to use the bathroom too often when in reality we were just trying to manage our 8-year-old self’s anxiety about spelling tests. Or it might be our dad, telling us we to stop crying or he’d give us something to cry about. It could be our youth minister, telling us we’re going to hell after we finally worked up the courage to come out to her. There’s no shortage of negative input from our past, so why are we dragging it with us into our present?

Learning to be patient and kind to ourselves takes practice and work. First, we have to recognize that we are giving ourselves these messages. We have to become conscious. And unless we have done the work to become aware and present, most of the time we walk through life unconscious. If we pause for a moment after making an error and ground ourselves in the moment, we can then choose how to react. We can berate ourselves (loser, idiot, stupid, what a fuck up) or we can shower ourselves with kindness and love (it’s ok, you’ll do better next time, it’s not a big deal, there’s a pandemic, of course you’re anxious/depressed/uncertain/lonely).

We’re all trying harder to practice kindness during this weird time–waving at strangers as we cross the road to avoid breathing the same air, yelling across the yard to chat with our neighbors as we check in on their well-being, touching base with those we know might need some extra help, having online gatherings with friends we may not have seen in a while.

Let’s all practice giving ourselves at least that much grace while we’re at it.

C is for Consciousness and Choice

The past few weeks have been a seminar on awareness, being conscious of what is going on around me as well as within me. I have been noticing so many things. So many things. I thought I should start making a list of all the noticing but as is usually my wont, I figured I would remember. And, of course, now that I sit down to write about what I have noticed, I’m having difficulty remembering all of the things.

When clients come in (or as it is now, log on) to see me, I work with them to become conscious of their thought patterns, the unconscious messages they are sending themselves, the subconscious beliefs they hold about life and circumstance and beliefs and other people. When we become conscious, or aware, we can begin to make choices (also a great word that begins with C), and when we make conscious choices, we take back our power. We discover our agency, either for the first time or again.

To use a slightly silly example, I have noticed that there are a lot of dandelions in the grass just outside my front door. Usually I mow once a week and pay no attention, but now, as I sit on the front steps and comb the cat to while away the hours, I am aware of the sheer number of dandelions. More dandelions than grass in many spots. In this moment I realize that I have a choice about how I feel about the unwanted yellow and green plant pests. I can be annoyed by them, or I can be grateful that today is sunny and getting warm-ish and I have time to spend in the yard, eradicating them.

Recognizing the choices gives me a sense of power. I can choose what to do and how I want to feel. I can feel in control and powerful regardless of my choice, just knowing that I have options. Without choice, I could become a victim to the dandelions, feeling sorry for myself that I don’t have a beautiful lush lawn, for example.

Instead, I make a conscious decision to spend a few hours weeding, moving, bending, kneeling, focusing.

My lawn looks like it has a terrible pox, but I am invigorated.

What have you  been noticing?

p.s. Other things I have noticed/become conscious of:

  • my cat Mittens has a nemesis neighbor cat that visits/harasses him daily
  • the deer parade through my yard daily as well and boy are there a lot this spring
  • my freezer doesn’t seem to be working
  • I don’t mind the noise in the neighborhood
  • there’s a tiny hold drilled above my front door that seems to be bug related
  • I have and can wield a caulk gun
  • volunteer pansies in my flower pots
  • I can be content staying home
  • I am saving a ton of money by not eating out nearly every night
  • I don’t mind cooking

A is for Anxiety, Allow, Authenticy

Welcome to my most recent attempt at the annual A – to – Z blog a day. I’ve not done this for a couple of years and might be a bit out of practice since I’ve devoted the past couple of years to becoming a counselor rather than writing, but hey, it’s high time the two halves of my life introduced themselves, because I can’t be one without the other. I can’t be a counselor without writing and I really want to add writing to my counseling career, and what better way to start?

At first, I thought I’d write A is for Anxiety. Turns out I’ve done that several times already, so I pondered what else might be applicable. As I considered my options, I realized that Anxiety is a perfect place to start and from there it’s a hop skip and a jump to those other A words: Awareness, Authenticity, and Allow. It so happens that I have many clients who are living with anxiety.  Anxiety permeates every aspect of our lives these days whether we are students, workers, parents, or children. Everyone seems to be facing down this demon.  Over the past year, as I’ve talked to dozens of individuals and couples, I have come to visualize anxiety as the tension between what we want to be and where we are currently, this distressing in-between place.  And because we feel trapped and uncomfortable in our anxiety, we try to suppress our discomfort when instead, in order to work with our anxiety, we need to first Allow it to be. And then we need to Ask it what it wants.

I did not come up with this strategy on my own—I learned it from one of my counselors who told me I need to invite my feelings “in for tea” so I could “get to know them.”  What I have learned from this exercise is that if we can allow ourselves to face our fears, we can stop running and listen to what they are trying to tell us. To be aware in our lives, which allows us to be fully present, and in being fully present we can become authentic, our real true selves because we have faced our worst fears and found ourselves more powerful for our bravery.

Try it. I dare you. Interview your Anxiety. Ask it to sit next to you on the couch. Hell, give it a name, introduce yourself, and ask it what it wants. What needs to change in order for you to lessen the tension between what you are and what you want to be? Allow yourself to become! (thanks Michelle Obama)