Who Am I in My Dream?

 

Thank goodness we are not held accountable for the things we do in our dreams!  Most of us have indulged in violent or antisocial behavior, been promiscuous, or conducted a business meeting topless!  These images can be frightening and shame producing if we identify with the self who shows up in the dream.

Identifying with the figure who represents you in a dream sometimes makes it impossible to deepen the understanding of the message of the dream because you feel so squeamish about what happened in the dream.  The most important thing to remember is that the figure who is YOU in the dream is not actually YOU.  That figure represents the current state of identity–the YOU you know yourself to be today or the night you had the dream.Many times the dream  is the harbinger of new and unfolding aspects of identity.  Those emerging aspects of self are always frightening or disgusting or upsetting to the self you are today.  For example, a woman who was very quiet and retiring was on the cusp of speaking up more for herself.  She dreamed that she was growing claws and fangs.  She woke horrified.  To the self she knew herself to be–retiring, quiet, and unable to express aggression, the new emerging self who would be able to do that was horrifying.

So when you find yourself doing something unexpected, or embarrassing or criminal or shocking–remember it’s only relative to an established sense of self.  The new parts of self often come in as exaggerated or extreme.  Your own wise psyche is preparing you for a change and getting your more staid, familiar self ready.  Be curious about what’s coming in, and why it might appear so shocking to your familiar identity.

Learn More About Savoring

 

The ventral striatum is a part of the brain where positive emotional responses are experienced.

Most of us are aware that the human brain is hard wired to remember negative experiences much better than positive ones. Our survival heritage makes sure we remember in what corner of the jungle the perilous creatures hung out. It turns out that the positive memory seat is weak.  The Journal of Neuroscience published a study titled: The Neurodynamics of Affect in the Laboratory Predicts Persistence of Real-World Emotional Responses

What the researchers found was that “Sustained ventral striatum engagement in the laboratory positively predicted the duration of real-world positive emotional responses.” This means that the folks who remembered positive experiences longer were happier.

What excites me about this is that each one of us can use this research to our own benefit.  We can work at increasing the pleasure sustaining capacity of our brains and thus open the door to being happier overall.

 The practice of lengthening pleasure–savoring. 

Try this when you are eating a strawberry…or it could be a peach or any other piece of fruit.

 

The key is to go slowly and notice the details.  Feel the beautiful speckled surface of the strawberry.  Smell its fresh scent.  Take in the bright ruby color.  Do all of this before you take a single bite.  Imagine the plant as it was bearing fruit in the sunny field, sending off runners to make more fruit.  Then when you are ready, bite into the strawberry.  What is the texture of its flesh?  What happens in your mouth?  Where in the mouth does the taste hit?  What do you note?  Tartness?  Sweetness?

The practice of savoring brings many experiences into high relief, and when we begin to do this over a longer period of time, we are strengthening that part of the brain.

An exercise that will help you is to make a list of 10 experiences that gave you pleasure and/or joy.  The list should include a variety of events–big events like the birth of a child and small ones like opening an Amazon box that brought a book you really wanted.  Create your list of 10 events that you would like to mine for their pleasure sustaining potential.

Then begin with one of the events, and do a savoring exercise.  It is similar to a meditation, but instead of clearing the mind, you will be focusing.  Close your eyes and bring the memory of the event back.  Bring back all of the details, as many as you can, until the feeling you had wakes up again.  Give yourself permission to come back to it several times.  If the feeling won’t arise, move on to another experience.

The key is to bring the pleasure of something that you experienced back to life.  Return to this experience and practice sustaining the pleasure.  You will be building up that part of the brain that is associated with positive emotions out in the real world. When you have successfully done one, try another.  One of the bonuses of this exercise, in addition to building up that ventral striatum, is that at other times, when you are blue, irritated, tired, or experiencing some other less that pleasurable feeling, you can pull this out of your back pocket and shift your mood.

Send me an email and let me know how you are doing with this.

Learn From the Daisy

 

Recently my dear friend Annharriet Buck the longtime resident psychologist, meditation teacher at the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California recommended a book written by buddhist teacher Orygen Chowang Rinpoche Our Pristine Mind

 

On her advice, I dove into it.  The book teaches a particular form of meditation that essentially helps the mind settle into its natural state of being. He likens it to a snow globe–the way little bits of snow swirl around when you shake the globe, but if you let it sit, slowly the swirling settles into stillness.  The mind is like this.  This meditative practice is not focused on an object or even the breath, and the eyes are kept softly open, not closed as is the usual practice with meditation.  The aim is to be present in a natural state of awareness.  As I have tried to follow this practice, I have noticed a sense of being present in the midst of my environment and all that is part of that–the trees, the house, my dog…  This book is not a page turner, but is worth it for anyone who is interested in enhancing meditative practice.

One of the results of this practice is that I began to notice more of my surrounding and reflect more deeply about it. I am fortunate to live in a very beautiful spot, high up in the coastal redwood forest overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In summer wild daisies pop into bloom, so if you drive to my place, as you come down the single lane road to the house, the edge of the road riots with them.

The meditation of the pristine mind, settling into the natural mind made me feel deeply connected to my environment, not in it or separate from it, but belonging to it just as much as the trees or the daisies.  The contemplation of the daisy brought me to the notion that I, and you, are just what we essentially are. You would never hear a daisy saying, “I sure wish I had those nice prickly thorns that the rose over there has.”  Or “Gee, how come I’m only yellow and white?”  We can’t do better than to settle into the essence of the unique natural being each of us is.  The daisy reigns there by the side of the road.  It waits for me to cut a few stems to put in a vase and set on my dining room table.  It waits to be picked by a lovesick individual who will pluck each petal, “He loves me; he loves me not.”  It waits for the gardener who gathers the seeds from the blossom so she can plant daisies in a new location.  The daisy can be used in many ways–always in alignment with daisy-hood.

Many of us spend time trying to make something of ourselves, when in truth, coming back to the essence of who we are, and allowing ourselves to unfold from that place is the challenge.  We need to be used in ways that are consistent with the essence of who we are and well–in that way we’re not all that different from the daisy.

 I’d love to hear from you–

how you’re unfolding from your essence

and how you’re allowing yourself to be used in that wonderful and unique way.

 

What your anger can teach you about yourself

 

Anger can be informative in so many ways, but above all anger, no matter what form, tells you something MATTERS.

Did you ever find yourself fuming when someone jumped ahead in a line while you waited patiently?  Or were you judgmental about the person who selfishly helped herself to the last piece of pie when you would never have taken that for yourself?  Or  did you criticize the friend who stood up at the party and in spite of a bad voice belted “Happy Birthday” as if she belonged on Broadway?  You probably can imagine your own situation where you feel angry, judgmental, critical, or some other negative feeling about someone else.

That feeling may point you in the direction of your own shadow–that part of yourself that is”not me” or is a part you’d prefer to keep hidden from view or  it could even be the part of you that isn’t permitted to live.

shadow self

Take note of what irritates you.   It may be objectively something most people would find irritating, but it’s worth asking yourself if you might gain any personal information from the situation.  What is this other person giving herself permission about that you might not give yourself permission for?  It may point you in a direction where you are too hard and unforgiving of yourself.  It might give you an idea where you need a little more space to be human.  It might suggest a value that hold that has never been questioned or revised (some of the rules we learned as kids need revision as life becomes more complex.)

The other important learning anger can lead you to has to do with its proportion.  If you step back and weigh your internal reaction in relationship to the event that caused it, if it seems out of proportion, then the anger definitely is pointing to something else. The situation is like the tip of the iceberg, and the underlying issue is bigger that what triggers the anger.  For example, if your husband brought you red roses for your birthday but you really love yellow ones, and you find yourself exploding about how “He never pays attention to what I like.”  Well, I think you get it.

Good luck letting your anger be a helper to find out something new about yourself.  Let me hear from you when you find out something you didn’t know!

 

Reduce Stress: An Unexpected Way

 

One of the wonders of being alive today is brain research. Many ideas that we have intuitively believed to be true are now being documented with hard scientific facts. It is well known that receiving social support is associated with reduced stress and vulnerability. However a study published in  Psychosomatic Medicine  in 2016 documents via neuroimaging that another way of reducing stress shows up in three parts of the brain.

GIVING SUPPORT

We spend lots of time and energy figuring out how to manage and reduce the stress of modern life. To name a few (some better than others):

  • Meditation and mindfulness practice
  • Exercise
  • Recreation
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Vacation
  • Chilling out
  • Television and movies

 

But this study has implications for all of us are incredible:

If you want to reduce stress for yourself, then give someone else support!

 

LEND A HELPING HAND!

 This information is especially important for individuals who are ending a big project, locating to a new place, changing or retiring from a career. With a little more time available, you have the opportunity to do something wonderful for yourself—by doing something wonderful for someone else.  Think about it: How can you add an act of supporting someone else into your busy schedule?  And write it into the category of: SELF CARE!

Learning to want what you want to want

 

 

Is there anyone who doesn’t struggle with habits, desires, or urges that point toward something they wish they didn’t want?  Sugar? Cigarettes?  Alcohol? Cookies?  Ice cream? Hours of procrastination?

How do I learn to want what I want to want rather than what I want right now?  That is the question.

Most of us are able to carry a big stick of “SHOULD” over our heads for periods of time.  The problem with the should is that it’s like a dam–one that isn’t so strong.  Oh, it will hold back the flow of desire for a while, that is until it gets stronger, and then the dam isn’t strong enough to hold back the compelling desire that takes over and breaks through.

I have had my own battle with trying to want the things that are good for me.  Here’s what helps:

  • A meditation practice
  • Cultivating a nurturing inner partner
  • Learning to surf urges

Meditation practice

The reason they call it “practice” is because forever it is a learning process.  The process of quieting the mind, learning to focus away from thoughts, desires, conflicts, etc. makes a huge difference in how we respond to the feelings that take us over.  Meditation gives a person a safe place to rest or stand–this is a mind space where you are not taken over by the turmoil that can so easily overwhelm you.  This safe place that is cultivated by meditation is a place that makes CHOICE possible.  

Cultivating a nurturing inner partner

The stick of SHOULDS that you hold over your head is like a strict, unrelated parent or teacher.  It includes little understanding about what you are feeling and just wants you to obey the rule–one you might not even have fully bought into.  A nurturing inner partner is kind, gentle, and only wants what’s best for you.  This helper will listen to what’s hard for you, and may even have interesting ideas for new strategies to help you achieve your goals.  Unlike the dam of shoulds that will always collapse when desire gets stronger, the nurturing inner partner is strong.  Spend some time conjuring an image of this helper–like a guardian angel, the captain of my ship, the best mother anyone could have…there are many possibilities.  The next time you are overcome with a desire for something that isn’t good for you, have an imaginary conversation with this figure.  See what happens.

Surfing the urge 

I learned about surfing the urge when I quit smoking.  It’s a long story, but many years ago one day after too much smoking and a little too much red wine, I got the worst headache I’ve ever had.  I woke up in the morning, and instead of reaching for a cigarette, I was afraid of the headache coming back, so I just postponed the smoke till after breakfast.  Then after breakfast, instead of lighting up, again afraid, I decided to wait till lunch time.  I think you get the picture.  After two days of postponing the next cigarette, I went to an acupuncturist I was seeing, and she said, she could help me with this.  She could put a little bead in my ear, and each time the desire to smoke arose, I could just rub that bead into the acupressure point and the urge would pass.  Ride out one urge at a time.  That is surfing the urge.  Take it one urge at a time and know the urge passes.  You don’t have to gratify it.  I had the help of the fear of the headache, but even years later, I still occasionally get the urge–but it passes.  To read more about this I recommend a great book by Kelly McGonigal The Willpower Instinct.

Learning to want what you want to want is a process.  Deep within each one of us is an amazing healing potential, a part of us that only wants what’s best for us in a gentle, loving way.  It takes time and focus to give that inner part a place to grow.  My suggestion is to begin with very small, achievable goals, and work with these three strategies.  Let me know how you’re doing!

 

Sources of desire

Desire can be a trickster.

We all experience desire–sometimes it’s a gentle nudge and others it’s a hurricane dashing us toward the object of our desire.

Desire has many sources:

  • biological need
  • love
  • addiction
  • habit
  • poor self esteem
  • inflated self esteem
  • jealousy
  • competition
  • hunger
  • deprivation

 

Something inside me feels hollow or empty.  Or maybe I am hungry or thirsty.  There are authentic desires that emerge as signals that lead me toward what I need.  But sometimes desire plays tricks on perception.

 When I am longing for something, I am prone to see what appears before me as exactly what will fulfill my longing.  Nowhere is this more evident that in romance.  When I am lonely and feel an intense desire to have a partner, there is a good chance I may perceive the person close by as the answer to my longing.  It is as if desire skews a connect-the-dots picture–it only perceives the dots that make what’s in front of me form the picture that satisfies my desire.  I simply don’t perceive those other dots that would make the choice more complicated and ambivalent.  Later, of course, I will gradually notice one dot after another, and then wonder why it took me so long.

Intense desire blurs vision.

 

I’ve seen this with clients who married the wrong partner, bought the wrong house, took the wrong degree, went to the wrong college, adopted the wrong dog….the list goes on.

Here’s the key–when you think you’ve found the perfect one–locate at least three of the negative dots.  Then ask a best friend to point them out.  If you come up with the same list, you’re in good shape.  If you don’t, beware of lurking negative dots.  Spare yourself a lot of agony.  Slow down and take your time.

 

 

Make Way for New Learning

 

We are creatures who are organized by the familiar. We do so many without thinking. I open doors with my right hand. I carry my purse on my left shoulder. I fall asleep on my right side. I button shirts bottom up. I stir my tea with my right hand clockwise. I hit the first step on the stairs with my right foot. I brush my teeth top left down. Do these small things matter? You bet they do. I do everything “the right way.”

Try this:

Clasp your hands naturally. Take a moment to see what that feels like. Then shift the fingers. What do you feel? Most likely you will experience this slight shift as feeling “wrong.”

The point is that our brains get wired to register the familiar as “right” and the unfamiliar as “wrong.” Often when a new client begins therapy I suggest that they try to do some things differently. Real growth can occur when we make room for new experiences and loosen the hold that the familiar has on us.

By loosening we expand the boundaries of possibility.

If you are interested in opening your life to new possibilities you can loosen the hold that the familiar has on you. In daily, simple tasks, you can opt for doing things in an unfamiliar way. Here are some suggestions:

  • Do any routine task with your non-dominant hand.
  • Reverse processes, like buttoning and unbuttoning a shirt, putting on socks, saying grace after the meal.
  • Take a new route when driving to a familiar destination.
  • Eat a food you never ate before.
  • Change your usual seat at dinner.
  • Go to an unfamiliar neighborhood and take a walk.
  • Do something you’ve never done before—iron a dish towel, saw a piece of wood, sew on a button, plant a flower, dance by yourself in the kitchen before dinner, pay for the person standing behind you in Starbucks.

 

The possibilities are endless. Keep thinking of the small in-your-life things you can do differently and give them a try. The loosening of the familiar makes space for new experience and learning.

You will recognize these lines by Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken”:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

 

Imagination–Your Best Friend

 

When I was a kid I spent summers at my grandmother’s house in the woods on Long Island.  The days were sweet and slow.  There were no other kids, no toys, no video games.  There was a vanity brush, a whisk brush with a china torso as the handle, that looked like this;

r

She sat on my grandmother’s dresser and her purpose was to brush lint off clothes.  There was another object–a piece of raw plywood cut in the shape of a Dutch girl with a pointy bonnet and clunky wooden shaped shoes on her feet.  The features of her face were sketched in with pencil.  These two objects were central to my play as a child.  I looked forward to arriving at Grandma’s and finding them again and again.  With them I created endless adventures, stories, and dramas.  That they were hardly fit as toys mattered not a bit.  My imagination needed only these modest props to ignite an afternoon of play.  Children have no problem engaging imagination, but as we “mature” sometimes the imagined is sacrificed for the “real.”

Fantasy and the use of imagination serve the development of the future.  By imagining what can be, expanding beyond familiar and known territory, a person can begin to envisage new and exciting possibilities.  When fantasy replaces reality, we say it is a delusion.  But according to Dr. James Doty, a Stanford based neurosurgeon and the author of Into the Magic Shop imagination offers a powerful tool for shaping reality.  He says, “The brain doesn’t distinguish between an experience that is intensely imagined and an experience that is real…[and] it will always choose what is familiar over what is unfamiliar.”

In my work as a therapist, I often encourage a client to imagine a desired outcome. By engaging the imagination fully, a person can begin to create something for themselves, something new, exciting, transformational, even fun.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Choose a quiet, relaxing place and close your eyes.
  • Imagine yourself into a desired situation.
  • Do not entertain any reality based limitations such as time, money, companionship, etc. Hold the attitude that everything is possible.
  • Sink into the imagined scene as fully as possible with great detail.  For example, what are you wearing? Where are you located?  What is the weather like?  What is around you?  Who is present?
  • Play the scene out.  What happens?

 

Using the imagination in this way will give you new ideas about what you are craving from the deepest part of yourself.  Later on, once you have an idea about what that part of you is yearning for, you can shape taking action considering not only the imagined, but also the limitations of reality.

But don’t DON’T bring reality in too soon!

 

Feelings I’d Rather Not Have

 

In a previous blog post I wrote about states of mind.  States of mind and emotions are like weather: variable, unpredictable, and transient.  One day your husband brings you flowers, white roses.  You feel happy–a cherished wife, a thoughtful husband.  Another day your husband brings you white roses.  You are annoyed–unimaginative husband, he forgot I only love yellow roses.  The very same act can provoke a very different set of feelings depending on your state of mind.

Do you remember the tale of Sleeping Beauty?

Sleeping beauty

There was to be a celebration of the princess’s birthday.  Because the king and queen only had 12 golden cups, they invited 12 fairies to the party and left out the 13th.

That 13th left-out, uninvited fairy angrily showed up at the birthday feast anyhow.

prick finger

And she put a curse on the baby:  One day the child would prick her finger on a spindle and she would sleep for 100 years.

As you know, that’s just what happened.  There’s more to the story, but this part of it is a good lesson about what happens when something is left out.

We all have states of mind we don’t particularly care for: boredom, anxiety, sadness, lethargy, anger, frustration, impatience, and the list goes on.  When we work at suppressing or excluding these feelings from awareness, they act like the 13th fairy.  They turn more negative and cause trouble. Shut out of consciousness, they gather strength, and then when they finally come out, they ambush us, take us down a rabbit hole of sadness, anger, despair, etc.  It’s like the prick that causes the 100 year problem.  The suffering is longer and more intense.

We need to invite all of our feelings to sit at the table.

animals at table      even the snake!

If we exclude certain feelings or try to push them aside, we’re acting like a bad parent who says,

  • “You’ve got nothing to cry about!”
  •  “Just go to your room until you can come back with a smile.”
  •  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

 

Parents probably didn’t welcome all the states of mind when you were a child.  That’s how you learned that not all of you is lovable.  But now that you are a grown-up, you can make room for parts of yourself that have been unwanted by others, and that have grown to be unwanted by you.

The good thing that will happen when you let all parts of yourself, yes, even the angry and unhappy parts, come to the table, you’ll find that they don’t have as much power, they are more transient, and sometimes, even the bad feelings, when they show up can even bring a smile to your face….like you recognize an old familiar friend!