May 28th, 2013
A time comes in your life when you finally get…when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out…ENOUGH1 Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on. Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.
This is your awakening.
You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon.
You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you…and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.
You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are…and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.
You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself…and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.
Your stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.
You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and everything isn’t always about you.
So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself…and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.
You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties…and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.
You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.
You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with.
You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for you next fix.
You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.
You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not you job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.
Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.
You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.
You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.
You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drinking more water, and take more time to exercise.
You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.
You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.
More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.
You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.
You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom.
You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people…and you lean not to always take it personally.
You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.
You lean that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.
You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.
Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than you heart’s desire.
You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.
You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind.
Finally, with courage in you heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.
October 9th, 2012
::Life isn’t about keeping score.
It’s not about how many people call you
and it’s not about who you’ve dated, are dating, or haven’t dated at all.
It isn’t about who you’ve kissed,
what sport you play,
or which guy or girl likes you.
It’s not about your shoes or your hair or the color of your skin
or where you live or go to school.
In fact, it’s not about your grades, money, clothes, or colleges that accept you or not.
Life isn’t about if you have lots of friends,
or if you are alone,
and it’s not about how accepted or unaccepted you are.
Life isn’t just about that.
But life is about who you love
and who you hurt.
It’s about how you feel about yourself.
It’s about trust, happiness, and compassion.
It’s about sticking up for your friends and replacing inner hate with love.
Life is about avoiding jealousy, overcoming ignorance, and building confidence.
It’s about what you say and what you mean.
It’s about seeing people for who they are
and not what they have.
Most of all,
it is about choosing to use your life
to touch someone else’s
in a way that could never have been achieved otherwise.
These choices are what life is about. ::
::It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important.
You have to do the right thing.
It may not be in your power, maybe not in your time, that there’ll be any.
But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing.
You may never know what results come from your action.
But if you do nothing, there will be no result.::
September 10th, 2012
Imagination, fantasy, and play. Three concepts that naturally belong together. As children, they were a part of our lives in a very real way. As we get older, we tend to leave play behind to a large extent. Our society dictates that responsible adults focus more on the business of acquisition and achievement – very much ego activities. The engaging in play has a place but usually is socially sanctioned, such as playing sports or creating art that has some decorative value. Otherwise, play that has no other purpose than just to engage in play and fantasy has little valued place in our adult lives. In my opinion, we are poorer for it.
Many of Carl Jung’s fundamental ideas and concepts of his analytical psychology method came out of his own personal experiences with play as an adult. During a time of mid-life crisis after he broke away from Freud, he began to play daily as he had as a young boy as a way of trying to get in touch with the child he used to be. What he discovered is that engaging in play helped him work through some of his early experiences he had as a child. He found that play did not necessarily lead down the slope of memory to childishness, but rather led directly to the unfinished business of childhood. This was the beginning of Jung’s concept of active imagination that is such an integral part of his process of psychotherapy. What is active imagination? It is a turning attention and curiosity towards the inner world of the imagination and expressing that inner world symbolically, all the while seeking a self-reflective, psychological point of view. One way to do active imagination is to dialogue with figures in our dreams. The process of active imagination taps into the unconscious and can be done individually or in conjunction with an analyst. In either case, it is a method of healing as we get in touch with the images that are produced in the unconscious and engage with them.
The form of active imagination that I am most comfortable with and practice most often is engaging my dream figures in dialogue. Jung’s method of dream interpretation included this process of active imagination and Steven Aisenstat describes a form of this in his book Dream Tending. I recall a dream where I am in a business office setting as a new employee. My supervisor, an overweight woman dressed in black business attire, is neutral to me and yet when we go into a meeting that includes the entire staff, she becomes aggressive, mean, loud, and argumentative. The staff hates her. I feel dread at the thought of having to work for this woman. I did active imagination with my dream figure of the boss by engaging her in dialogue. By doing this, she transformed from the harassing supervisor to someone who was sad, isolated, and desperate to be loved and accepted by the people around her. When I asked the question of why she was so mean to everyone, she responded by saying that she had to act that way so people wouldn’t know how vulnerable she is and thus, they could not hurt her. We had a conversation, the result of which I no longer had the negative feelings toward her that I did earlier. She is a figure produced from my unconscious and thus, I believe, is a part of my own Self. By engaging in dialogue with this image, I actually am able to be in touch with a piece of my own unconscious.
Of course, active imagination need not only be done with dream images. Images can be auditory, visual, kinesthetic, sensory, etc. Working with any and all of these kinds of images is a way for us to engage with our unconscious in a way that can be healing. From a therapeutic standpoint, this is extremely beneficial, allowing patients space to explore difficult emotional connections in ways that they might not be able to access in a conventional therapy. In fact, it does not have to only allow space for difficult emotions but also for other unconscious contents that we might not otherwise have access to.
Play allows us access to these unconscious contents. It allows us to reconnect with our inner child and the healing powers of play and imagination. Playful adults are usually highly creative people. They have access to their unconscious through their playfulness and engage with the material that enters into their consciousness. I have many clients who have cut themselves off in a very real way from the playfulness and fantasy of their childhood. Many of them come into therapy complaining of depression, anxiety, and emptiness. It’s as if they have been cut off from a life source. Many of them have spent most of their time climbing corporate ladders, striving to increase their wealth and material goods, have married and have children. Yet they come into therapy wondering why they aren’t happy. When I ask them to play, pretend, draw, or move I am usually met with resistance. They want what they consider to be therapy: talk to the therapist and she should tell you how to change your life and then you are cured.
I understand this resistance to engaging in play as an adult. I experience it myself. I remember playing as a child but never with wild abandon. Playtime in my experience always had rules attached to it. I had to color within the lines, was never allowed to make a mess, and most of all I remember that play and fantasy was considered a waste of time by my parents. They were immigrants to Canada who had a strong work ethic and who had lived a hard life prior to coming to their new land. Play, daydreaming, fantasizing, doing anything that was not productive was met with great disdain and the threat of finding me something useful to do. I’ve grown into an adult who has difficulty slowing down, always has a long to do list, and has trouble just being when there is so much that I could be doing. Our society perpetuates this with its emphasis on accomplishment and acquisition. Intellectually I know that I should play more, lay out in my backyard and daydream, pursue creative outlets and I have a great desire to do so, however, something usually gets in the way of my doing so.
One of the things that gets in the way for me is my felt need to do things right. Perfection. A drawing I create needs to be a masterpiece or it’s worthless in my mind. A creative writing experiment needs to be worthy of being published or why bother. My inner critic is powerful indeed telling me that my attempts at play and creation are only okay if they are done perfectly. So the challenge is to leave our adult quest to measure up to some yardstick and just let go and play for play’s sake. Be curious, be open. Have a child’s mind and open yourself to the wonder that awaits you. You might just find that healing and personal growth are a side-effect!
June 21st, 2012
Children Are Like Kites
I see children as kites – you spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground – you run with them until you are both breathless – they crash – they hit the rooftop – you patch and comfort, adjust and teach.
You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they will fly. Finally they are airborne. They need more string and you keep letting it out.
But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy – the kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before this beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together, and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone.
Only then will you know that your job is done.
April 18th, 2012
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Fear of the unknown is our greatest fear. Many of us would enter a tiger’s lair before we would enter a dark cave. While caution is a useful instinct, we lose many opportunities and much of the adventure of life if we fail to support the curious explorer within us.”
- Joseph Campbell, the man, the myth the legend.
February 11th, 2012
I recently ran across this wonderful article by Rick Belden at his site www.goodmenproject.com. He has wonderful insights on how most of us tend to run away from our emotional and psychological pain rather than sitting down and working through it. We do this because of conditioning and fear, among other reasons. The effect of this is that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to make a happier, more meaningful, more fulfilling life. It is necessary for us to experience our pain and grief in order that we may grow from it. I hope that his article might inspire you to look at your own life. Give yourself the opportunity to live your unlived life.
by Rick Belden (reprinted with permission)
Sometimes pain and grief are necessary agents of growth in our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pain lately, particularly pain of the emotional and psychological variety, and I’ve come to realize that a lot of my problems and failures as a young man resulted from my inability to be with my own pain. Not that I could have known how to be with it. To the contrary, I was taught and conditioned to run from it and to ignore it, as it seems most of us were, and still are.
A couple of months ago, I was really sick for about a week with some sort of horrible cold/flu/whatever. After a few days, I began to realize that being sick as a dog, while not pleasant, was giving me a much-needed opportunity to slow down so I could remember and relearn how to be with myself again, and that aspect of being sick, once the realization kicked in for me, was sweet. A big part of that sweetness was remembering and re-experiencing what it was like to be with my body, moment to moment, without any agenda or any schedule. I had a similar experience not long ago when I was in the acute stages of dealing with a broken wrist and shoulder, but the nature of that experience was different. It was extreme. What I rediscovered while I was sick for a week was more of an everyday mode, the mundane “being with myself” that is needed for common experiences, like a bad cold. Or a bad day.
I’ve been having a lot of bad days lately, and I’ve been struggling to come up with a good way to deal with it. While driving to the pizza place recently, one night after work (pizza and a brownie being my most favored self-medication and after-work sedative for the past few years), I was thinking about what else I could do to numb the painful aftereffects of yet another in a seemingly endless series of unrelentingly dreadful days at yet another meaningless job. And I realized almost immediately that no amount of pizza or sex or TV or porn or drinking or drugs or overeating, nothing I’ve ever done in the past or could ever do in the future to try to numb myself and escape, would make that awful pain I feel at the end of every wasted day go away, because what I’m feeling is the pain of another lost day in my unlived life.
That was, and is, a sobering realization, one that has left me with a problem that is not easy to solve and a question that is not easy to answer:
How do I live with my pain?
I know I’m not alone in wrestling with this issue. I know that a lot of folks feel stuck in lives they didn’t see coming. They begin each day filled with dread, and end each day filled with regret. They want to change their circumstances, but can’t, for all kinds of reasons. When I was younger, I used to tell others, “If you don’t like your life, change it.” I believed that, and I lived by it. I’m not saying I don’t believe it anymore, but I can also see now that life isn’t always so simple, or the path to change so direct. Sometimes life just piles up on people and boxes them in, sometimes as a result of their own choices, sometimes as a result of the system and the times in which they live, and sometimes as a result of chance, or fate, or karma, or whatever term you prefer for the mysterious and often apparently random hand of cosmic force in our lives.
I am where I am in my life as a result of all of the factors and influences listed above. I feel trapped in a losing game, and every instinct I have tells me to free myself and run for the life I want. But the way to freedom remains unclear, and the gap between my inner vision and my material reality is the distance between the life I want and the life I seem able to have. So I string my meaningless workdays together like a set of bad pearls and hope I can use them to buy myself some time somewhere down the road. Good strategy going forward, perhaps, but it does almost nothing in the now to diminish the pain of losing another day, and another, and another…
I feel trapped in a losing game, and every instinct I have tells me to free myself and run for the life I want. But the way to freedom remains unclear, and the gap between my inner vision and my material reality is the distance between the life I want and the life I seem able to have.
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “The cure for pain is in the pain.” My experience tells me that this is true. I also know that embedded within every painful time and experience in my life has been the seed of great transformation and healing, not just of circumstances, but of self. And yet I resist. I want no more pain. I want to be done with it.
Sadness scares me. Grief, the experience of grief and grieving, scares me. But I also know that grieving, that being with grief and sadness, is one of the most powerful and effective ways of being with and transforming pain. When I let my grief and my sadness speak, when I allow those energies to stir in my belly and my chest, to move up through my heart and my throat, to enter the world as tears and moans and sobbing and wailing, I am cleansed. I am lifted. I can see again. I feel real again. Human.
But entering that process is challenging for me. It’s tricky. Sensitive. I almost have to be taken by surprise. Like so many men, I’ve been conditioned not to feel such things (not directly anyway) and certainly not to express them, not even privately. The messages are clear: “Be a real man. Take charge. Control yourself. Don’t cry. Be tough. Don’t be a wimp.” If you are a man who is suffering, keep it to yourself. If you have to feel something, feel angry. Anger is manly and therefore safe to feel. Grief and sadness are not.
Grief work is hard for many of us as men, and so much has to be learned (and unlearned) in order to do it. You have to be tough and soft at the same time, and you have to be present with what you’re feeling without losing yourself in the intensity of it. It’s not easy. Healing is not for wimps. The real tough guys are the ones who can do the work, and if you don’t do your work when you’re called to do it, something bigger will come along and crack you wide open. None of us is immune to these processes.
I know, I can feel, that there is a lake of grief dammed up inside me now about the life I haven’t lived, and that I won’t be living tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. It frightens me, but I hope I can find a way to let it begin to move through me soon, because that’s the best way I know to be with, and live with, my pain.
Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems. His second book, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within, is currently awaiting publication. He lives in Austin, Texas.
More information, including excerpts from Rick’s books, is available at his website. His first book, “Iron Man Family Outing,” is available here.
February 3rd, 2012
An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, kindness, humility, empathy and truth.”
The boy thought about it and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
December 16th, 2011
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Profound words from a master!
So many of us have our noses to the grindstone, following a path that we set for ourselves a long time ago, or worse yet, that someone else set for us. Sometimes it’s doing something that we think we ‘should’ do or feel others expect of us. Or in other instances it is a path that once fit us but now might not so much. Living like this can leave us feeling stuck, empty, with not much to look forward to.
Does this feel familiar at all? I think that most of us might have one or two areas of our lives (if not more) where we feel like this. Perhaps it is a relationship that we keep trying to make work but at the heart of it, we know it isn’t the right thing for us. Maybe it’s a career path that we thought we wanted but are finding that we aren’t feeling fulfilled. It can be difficult making the decision to let go of something that we have held onto for so long. Sometimes it might feel like if we let it go, there won’t be anything to take its place. A scary place to be. However, it is in the letting go that we create space for new opportunities to come into our life, opportunities that might open a whole new world for us.
I work with individuals in my private practice who find themselves at crossroads where things just don’t seem to be working or feeling the way they thought they would. It might feel like a change is necessary, but they are terrified to let go of what they know and open a space for something new. Working with a psychotherapist like myself can help you open the door to a new you.