Guilt—Appropriate and Inappropriate


Feeling guilty is ubiquitous.

You feel it in small ways and big ones.

I was recently with some friends who were trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner.  One of the women said she didn’t like Greek food, and naturally her preference organized us.  We didn’t go to a Greek restaurant.  Once we were all sitting at the table of an Italian restaurant, she announced how guilty she felt.

Maybe she had stepped on someone’s toes?  Maybe somebody wanted to go Greek?  Did she have a right to organize the group?  Of course this group of great women reassured her that we were all happy to have accommodated to her preference.

Her guilt falls in the category of INAPPROPRIATE GUILT.  Had she announced that last night she had a little too much to drink, scraped the side of her car, and felt guilty, her guilt would have been APPROPRIATE GUILT.

What’s the difference?

Guilt is always a sign that some rule, value, guideline, or belief has been violated.


When I asked my friend what rule or value she had transgressed, she said she had grown up with the idea that she should always consider other people’s feelings before her own.  I wondered out loud if she had signed up for that rule?  Did she believe that she was supposed to be oriented in that way?  Was she not supposed to take note of her own preferences, desires, or needs?  Naturally she knew that this was not the case, but having grown up with a sister who had special needs, it was easy to understand how she came into ownership of this rule.

I am not a big fan of individuals who are “all about me.”  Self care doesn’t mean being a narcissist or trampling on other people’s needs and desires. But representing your own wishes, desires, values, and needs–if you don’t do it, who will?

Guilt has  a huge value for individual psychology.  The bad feeling has a purpose–to keep us from repeating something that transgresses important values.  It’s like a signal that says:  Something’s wrong here.  It is always worth paying attention to it, taking note.  Ah, I feel guilty.  Then it’s important to reflect on the transgression–what rule did I break?

Guilt will get your attention, and in that way can be helpful getting you to understand what rules organize you. If you ask yourself each time you feel guilty–what’s the rule?–when you reflect, you can figure out if they are rules you actually want to embrace, or are they rules that someone else imposed on you?  In small appropriate doses, guilt keeps you honest and on the right track.  Overdone, it erodes your spirit.

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 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.


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!



 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.



Discovering New Parts of Yourself

17763283 - beautiful european cat in a delivery box

Early in life parts of the self have to go into hiding or be left behind in order to develop other parts.Or sometimes parents or circumstances force you to abandon a part of yourself. For example, as a girl, Joan, a client of mine, dreamed of being a singer, but her mother scoffed at her for this silly idea. Joan put the singer dream away in order to grow up in that family. She became a lawyer like her dad.

As a youngster I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved all animals. In 1958, when I was 11 years old, our two miniature schnauzers gave birth to a total of 8 puppies between them. I raced home from school and spent every minute I could with the pups. I was enchanted.   By the time I was in high school my father convinced me that being a vet made no sense at all for a girl, so I went off to college to become a teacher—a “sensible career” for a woman at that time. That animal lover part of me dropped into the background of who I was and what I could live in my life.

About 5 years ago I had a thorough physical which included filling out a long questionnaire. When I, a real couch potato, had to answer about my exercise regime, I wrote “Walking my dog.” A close friend who knew I was no friend of exercise, read over the form and howled when she read that I had lied to the physician! Walk the dog? You don’t even have a dog! Oh but I was going to get one.

You see, that part of me had to be left behind so I could go to school, become a therapist, work 40 hours a week, manage a home and family, teach, and do all the other things to become a card-carrying grown-up.

Five years ago Patch brought the animal lover in me out of the box.

Meeting Patch
First time I met Patch








What part of you wants to come out of the box?

 LIFE REINSPIRED is designed to call forth unlived parts of you.

  • We will track down the part of you that is in hiding.
  • We will help you remember the dream that has been forgotten.
  • We will welcome a new part of you to the party.
  • We will help you dream a new dream for the future.

Creative peers and talented professionals will accompany you every step of the way in this exciting adventure of discovery.

Oh, by the way—Joan decided that she would give herself singing lessons for her 60th birthday. Two years later she performed her original cabaret act in a swanky Manhattan club to tremendous acclaim. It’s never too late to make a dream come true.

Come join me at LIFE REINSPIRED where you can bring special parts of yourself out of hiding. Together with two amazing colleagues, we’ve founded a program that is designed to make the next chapter of your life be the best chapter….because more of you will be coming to the party!

Join my colleagues and me at Life Reinspired, a life reset lab for successful Baby Boomers contemplating a meaningful next chapter.

Our first retreats are March 17-19 and March 24-26, 2017 at gorgeous MacArthur Place Resort and Spa in Sonoma, California.


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!

States of mind


States if mind and emotions are like weather–variable and transient.

We have states of mind we don’t care for. And they can come upon us very suddenly.  For example, I can feel upbeat, competent, sitting with a client feeling completely “adult” and “sane.” Let’s say my sister calls me and chews me out for having forgotten to do something I agreed to do.  Suddenly I an in an unwanted state of mind–that of a bad little girl.

What happened?

Each of us has subjective states–which are based on experiences we’ve had. Those experiences lay down pathways in the brain.   If you were habitually criticized growing up, that track is going to be well established.

imgres                                                   imgres-1

If you were humiliated, then that’s a familiar path.  If you were praised when you tried new things, then you’ll feel that good feeling.

Many years ago when research was just beginning to discover the secrets of the brain, the Wall Street Journal published an article that described how certain habitual cascades are triggered.  It used the example of an eagle flying over a rabbit.  The rabbit is hard-wired with a pathway that the shadow overhead triggers a panic cascade:


The rabbit senses the shadow overhead as threatening, and it goes into a survival-based response.  If you have a pet rabbit, and you pass a pad of paper over its head, causing a shadow to fall on the rabbit, it will go into a response as if a predator was overhead.

Our brains behave in the same way.  Events that approximate or suggest a previously experienced danger will trigger a response AS IF it were the real old danger.

We can’t stop being triggered.  What we can do is differentiate whether the situation is an eagle overhead or a pad of paper,  We can figure out if the state of mind that was just triggered and the cascade that follows matches the current here-and-now situation.  Often we find that the reaction is bigger than what the current situation calls for.  That’s one of the most helpful clues in identifying those automatic cascades of emotion and state of mind.