Can't fix you, you're not broken

Posted by Lissa Carter, LPC

My client seemed very small, almost folded into herself. We’d been working together for a while, but I’d never seen her like this. Even her voice had gotten smaller, almost disappearing into the air before it reached my ears. I had to lean in to hear what she was saying, and the words landed like stones: “I’m in so much pain today I almost didn’t come in. But then I thought, ‘maybe Lissa will say something to make it better.’”


I know this feeling. Both as a human being, and as a client on the other side of the counseling relationship, I have so often hoped I could hand my pain over into wiser, more capable hands for resolution. I have hoped that someone, somewhere, could simply give me the answers that would rid me once and for all of the nagging self-doubt, paralyzing fear, or insistent anxiety. Surely this is not too much to ask of a professional that we are, after all, paying for this service?

There is a reason I can’t say something in this moment to take away my client’s pain. And it can be a difficult one to understand—equally difficult, it turns out, to explain, especially when a suffering human being is looking at you with hope in their eyes.

The reason is this: if I remove your pain, I remove your humanity.

Pain is not bad. Pain is a messenger, and it has vital information for you. And you, as the unquestionable expert on your life and your journey, are the only one entitled to interpret your pain. The wise, capable hands you are seeking are your own.

It’s a hard concept to come to grips with, that pain is important. Thinking of sadness, anger, grief, anxiety—the “symptoms” so many of us try to eliminate—as the enemy makes sense. They are uncomfortable, unpleasant, unwanted. But these are symptoms of something other than emotional pain: they are also symptoms of meaning.

Consider it for a moment. When do you feel anger? When a principle that matters to you is violated. When do you feel grief? When something or someone meaningful is lost. When do you feel anxiety? When something deeply important is at stake.

Our painful emotions are trying to tell us what matters to us. They are signaling to us that our meaning, our purpose, is involved, and they are asking us to pay attention, because what is happening is IMPORTANT.

How could I possibly take that away from clients that I am ethically bound to help?

Martin Shaw writes “myth speaks of both the feasting hall of life’s abundance and the desolate tundra of challenge and despair. Amazingly, it offers both up as peak experiences.”

blob

 Why, then, would anyone ever hire a counselor?

Well, I can’t fix you. That’s true. I can’t fix you, because you are not broken.

But I do think you are important enough to have a witness, someone who can sit compassionately with you as you gently begin the process of listening to these painful emotions, deciphering their messages, and leaning into their wisdom to create a new relationship with yourself and your life — a life based, not on the avoidance of discomfort, but on the complex individuality of your own meaning and purpose.


So that’s what I told my client. I told her I did not want to sell her short, I honor her too much for that. I asked her if, instead of taking her pain away, we could make a space together to listen to it, even to welcome it. My client closed her eyes and imagined putting an arm around this pain as though it was worthy of her compassion. And something shifted.

My client’s sadness was not gone by the end of the session. What had changed was the way she was relating to it. Slowly, gently, she had begun to listen to what it was trying to tell her about what was not working in her life. Slowly, gently, she had begun the process of deciding how she wanted to live her life in the face of pain.


We don’t want to know this—we don’t want to know that life is going to be hard, and that pain is going to be inevitable. We’d rather roll the dice and hope that this nutrition plan, that self help book will stem the tides and keep us on a magically protected path. But the truth remains, whether we want it or not. A life that includes meaning will include pain.

0121851_viktor-frankl-a-hero-for-the-hopeless.jpeg

And it turns out, facing that truth gives us the opportunity to make a choice: the choice of how we want to navigate our lives. We can’t make this choice if we are too busy looking the other way, too preoccupied with avoiding the pain.

In that sense, the work you do in therapy goes far beyond the addressing of symptoms or the healing of a disease. The work you do in therapy is life work. You are learning to be the doctor/healer of your own mind, the conscious observer and mediator of your experience, and this is a lifelong art.

Therapy isn’t going to fix you. You’re not broken. Therapy will teach you to engage differently with your own mind and your own life, as an empowered agent instead of a victim to circumstance.

And that feels more important than symptom reduction.

Thank you to my brave client for her willingness to share this vignette.

IMG_0278.JPG

My practice has been full for a while, but currently I am opening space for a limited number of new clients. If this speaks to you, contact me for a free consultation to see if I am the right fit for your journey.


How To Stay Sane When The World Is Falling Apart

By Lissa Carter, LPC

This morning I woke with the fragment of a dream:  a crow had been struck by a car in front of the house. Even as I watched it die, another crow lit on the window and cawed, and I thought “Crow is bigger than the life of one crow.”

I believe the world is calling for this now:  the sense of self that is bigger than the individual.  There is a call going out to the Human that lives beyond our own human lives as Crow lives beyond crow.  

If you’ve noticed in yourself lately a tendency  to grow irritable, frustrated, and overwhelmed—a tendency that spills over and ruptures your closest relationships---or, on the other end, a tendency to turn the volume down on life, to isolate and numb yourself to the world—you may be reacting to this call. 

 But this call is to the part of us that is larger than our discrete selves, so if we choose to answer with internal coping strategies like self-medication, dietary changes, or exercise, we are choosing the wrong medicine. 

This is not to say that there is no place for tending the self—on the contrary, taking good care of our organismic selves with mindful habits of sleep, nutrition, and exercise is more vital than ever. But tending the self is not enough when the problem is bigger than the self. 

Recently the American Psychiatric Association, following on the heels of the American Medical Association, divested completely from fossil fuels, stating that ‘climate change poses a threat to public health, including mental health’ and recommending engagement in efforts to mitigate adverse mental health effects of climate change. 

The changing climate has a profound effect on our mental health: in terms of increased anxiety, trauma, and PTSD, but also in a marked decrease of our organismic sense of safety. Just as animals exhibit behaviors of stress, flight, and fear prior to an ecological crisis, we as animals have a sense of the wrongness of things. It lies below our language, possibly below our awareness—but just as surely as we are part of nature, we experience nature’s crisis as our own. 

 Bill Plotkin, founder of Animas Institute, describes this ecological self as our “mythopoetic identity”. As I come to terms with the losses we are sustaining, I find that the proper medicine, for me, lies in two arenas. I find meaning and hope in the cultivation of my mythopoetic identity by seeking out the wisdom encoded in myth, story, and reciprocal relationship with other species. Then, I put that wisdom into committed action, actual feet-on-the-ground hands-in-the-dirt witness. 

I recently presented at the North Carolina Counseling Association conference regarding the importance of these two arenas to the field of mental health.  Too often, the counseling relationship begins and ends with the learning of coping mechanisms, better communication skills, and anxiety- and depression-reducing habits. But this ability to turn within and fine-tune ourselves means nothing if we do not then take these newfound skills and put them in service to our values by taking tangible action in the world.

 Interestingly, work in these two arenas—mythopoetic identity and committed action--can actually lead to an increase in discomfort.  For this reason, many clients who sought out counseling in order to feel better get worried that they are losing ground when they reach this step and old anxieties and fears re-emerge.  I often talk with these clients about intentional discomfort: pilgrims and seekers of vision in the past would subject themselves to physical privations such as cold, loss of sleep, hunger, and long journeys.  They knew that there was something in loosening the weave of comfort that allows new voices and visions to get through. 

This is also true: life always exacts a price.  If we choose to avoid pain, we pay in loss of meaning, because any life that is meaningful involves pain. Think about choosing to love someone---the minute you let someone in, you also let in the possibility of losing them.  We can’t choose to avoid suffering.  All we can choose is whether our suffering will mean something or not.  

 Last fall I heard Martin Shaw tell a story that helps me understand this. Here is the story:

 

When lions age, their teeth begin to fall out and their muscles weaken, but their roar remains loud and powerful.  When a pride of lions goes out hunting, the older lions place themselves strategically out of sight near a grazing herd.  The young, powerful lions hide on the other side of the herd.  

 

The older lions open their toothless jaws and roar their terrifying roar. The prey, in terror, run in the opposite direction, fleeing for safety from the awful sound.  They flee, straight into the jaws of the powerful young lions--and are devoured. 

 

“Run toward the roar,” we are told, “if you want to survive.”

 Run toward the roar. Walk into the thing that scares you. 

Are you terrified of the cataclysmic loss of species we are facing?  Run toward the roar—look up images of these species, say their names aloud. Walk out into the world and see if you can find them and offer a gift of water, or just a moment of quiet grief.  Lost landscapes, lost species, live on in us.  Remember them. Don’t run away.  Nothing is gained by not looking. 

 

Are you horrified by our current political climate?  Run toward the roar—call your representative and ask for a face-to-face meeting. Share what you are feeling.  Talk about your shame and your grief and your outrage, person-to-person.  Not talking about it won’t make it go away. 

Are you coming awake to your own privilege or complicity in the atrocities we humans perpetrate?  Run toward the roar—talk to someone that does not share your privilege, and ask how you can help. Listen to perspectives that may be terribly uncomfortable to hear. Allow them to increase your understanding of the world. 

 Michael Meade reminded me, in a recent podcast, that creation is ongoing and continuous, and every bit as complex and flexible as the problems that we face.  He reminded me that renewal is simultaneous with collapse. If we refuse to look away, if we continue to walk unflinchingly toward the roar, we are poised to change our relationship to ourselves and to this planet in beautiful and unprecedented ways.  

 

I’d like to leave you with an image from my favorite childhood book, The Neverending Story.  There was a moment in that book in which the entire world had come apart; everything and everyone had dissolved into nothingness.  The little boy who was the hero of the story looked into that darkness and knew that all was lost.  And at that moment, he spoke a name.  He spoke name after name, calling back into creation everything he remembered, everything that had been devoured.  And the world pieced itself back together. 

 

Tend to yourself, tend to your community, tend to your planet.  Rinse and repeat.  In the end, it’s all the same thing.  We just need to be wiser than what is otherwise happening.  That is good enough. And I am here if you want to talk. 

 

Hush—

 

There is a full world hidden 

Behind the time it takes to go still

 

Your origin: as you walk 

backward and around to whence you came

 

There’s a sea in the way,

And a transformation, 

And the discipline of belonging. 

 

It is a discipline

To belong

 

-4/28/19

 

 

Resources for mythopoetic identity:

 

Bill Plotkin and Animas Valley Institute

 

Martin Shaw

 

Michael Meade’s podcast

 

Resources for committed action:

 

Steven Hayes (acceptance and commitment therapy)

 

CPA (climate psychiatry alliance)

 

Americans of Conscience

 

Draw Down:  solutions for global warming



What is Somatic Learning?

By Maeve Hendrix LPCA, RYT


What is Somatic Learning?

I get this question a lot. Somatic Learning is the practice of embodied mindfulness and offers tools for engaging in a friendly and reverent relationship with the intelligence your body.

The word somatic is derived from the Greek word Somatikos: Of the body.

IMG_9924.jpg

“Somatic Learning provides a discipline for a new participation in life. It is a practice for awakening to who we are by receiving the gift of our embodiment - not what we mistake for our “body” as “object”, but as the embodiment of spaciousness in the actual blooming of life, in the here and now.” Risa Kaparo

I remember the first time I read this quote from Risa Kaparo ten years ago, something in me lit up with curiosity and interest AND I also felt a lot of resistance and fear. I could feel my body saying “YES” through the tingling sensation in my arms, legs and fluttering heart. I felt the fear and resistance as a queasiness in my stomach and a voice in my head saying, “What does that even mean? Embodiment of spaciousness in the blooming of life???!” Even though my mind was pounding me with skepticism, I decided to take a risk and follow the YES I was also experiencing. I read on, and became intrigued by the shift from Old Paradigm to New Paradigm Approach to embodiment that Kaparo was proposing.

“Old Paradigm: … Most of our of our programming arises from collective beliefs of what we might call consensual reality (what we agree within a given paradigm to accept as “real”). Here are a few of the beliefs of the prevailing old paradigm that may still be unconsciously informing our mind/body relationship.

We function as relatively fixed objects.

We are separate from everything else.

Gravity is a force that needs to be overcome by effort.

These beliefs are based on the reductionism, materialism, and determinism of the socially prevailing scientific paradigm arising from Aristotelian thinking and Newtonian physics. However, in the latter half of the twentieth century, scientists and philosophers postulated a new paradigm, articulated in quantum physics and a philosophy of holism.

New Paradigm - These beliefs may be more relevant and empowering than those of the old paradigm.

We function as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing energy beings.

We are interconnected with all that is.

Gravity provides an opportunity to send and liberate us from our patterns of habitual tension.”

-Risa Kaparo

Relating to my body as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing, rather than as a relatively fixed object was completely revolutionary for me. I had been practicing meditation and mindfulness for a few years but was still unaware of the type of relationship I had with my body. In that moment I realized that I had been relating to my body as a tool that was here to be wielded and forced into action, rather than a highly intelligent organism that is self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing.

IMG_0140.JPG


As I look back over the last ten years, I see from a birds eye view how I have been slowly Living Into this new way of relating to my body/mind.

Over time, I have cultivated a much more friendly and reverent relationship with my body, honoring its vast intelligence and wisdom. Additionally, my relationship with gravity has changed dramatically. Rather than always struggling against gravity or taking it for granted, I am learning to play and experiment with receiving gravity as a gift. As a result, I have become more effortless in breathing and movement. Learning to be in a friendly relationship with gravity is a huge part of my embodied mindfulness practice. It is a daily practice that I can engage with anytime, anywhere and will never stop teaching me new lessons.

One practice that has been very helpful with my experimentation with gravity is “Differentiation”, as taught by Risa Kaparo.

Differentiation: The practice and processes of noticing change or movement.

Risa Kaparo says, “When you differentiate awareness, what you experienced previously as solid and relatively fixed, like “the body” or “the ground”, will now reveal itself as ever-changing, movement within movement… the ground keeps opening itself to you.”

Differentiation Exercise: Set a timer for 3-5 minutes or put on a song you enjoy that is 3-5 minutes long. Begin by standing with your knees slightly bent, shifting your weight more from one foot to the other. Tune into your breath, feeling the texture and temperature and movement of your breath. Feel the weight of gravity pouring down one leg and then the other. Invite your shoulders and arms to dangle heavily. Receive the weight of gravity as a helpful energy that allows you to feel the ground beneath you and feel your body suspended in space. Notice how everything is changing in each moment. Let your body be moved by an inner curiosity… an inner longing. Feel the ground rising up to meet your body and the air touching your skin as alive with consciousness. Continue this exploration until the timer goes off or the song ends. Afterwards: notice how you feel and how your relationship to the ground, the air and your body feels. Journal about this experience.

IMG_0198.jpg


I would love to hear about your experience with this practice! Feel free to write in the comments below or send me an email with any questions or reflections you have!

> maevehendrix@gmail.com

To learn more about Risa Kaparo’s work, check out her book “Awakening Somatic Intelligence”

Learning to Share my Voice: A Lifelong Process


Posted By: Maeve Hendrix, LPCA, RYT

Are you ever afraid to share your voice?

I know I am!

Photo Feb 03, 2 47 57 PM.jpg


Before I completed my first yoga teacher training 9 years ago, I was utterly TERRIFIED of speaking in front of groups, to the point where I fainted a few times while trying to give presentations in high school and college. Knowing I needed to address my fear of speaking in front of groups, I signed up for a three month, 200 hr yoga teacher training with the tiny spark of a hope that my phobia could be cured. Surprisingly, at the end of my three month training I noticed a significant shift had taken place. Learning to teach yoga had helped me feel more connected to my body and breath while speaking and sharing in front of a group, which kept me from spinning out in my head to the point of passing out. Success! This was a great awakening experience for me that boosted my self-confidence and softened my harsh inner critic. However, my fear of speaking in front of groups continued to challenge me in situations where I was not teaching yoga and I yearned to be able to share my voice anytime, anywhere while feeling relaxed and comfortable in my skin.

I remember being in my first semester of graduate school for Expressive Arts Therapy, listening to my beloved mentor, Sally Atkins, share with us the value of ‘Finding your Voice’. As she spoke, her eyes gleamed with a deep, anchored inner knowing, her voice penetrated into my bones with steady, grounded, grandmother earth essence. I was completely spellbound, mesmerized by her words, which were bathed in unwavering clarity and refreshing humor.

Right away I noticed my inner critic voice say, “you’ll never sound like her or be grounded enough to speak with such powerful clarity”. My body shrunk like a raisin in response to this inner criticism, I felt small and helpless. At that moment, Sally beamed her wild, loving gaze at me and I felt seen and acknowledged as a precious human who was undeniably capable, respected, and needed in this world. My insecure inner self was crumpled in a ball hiding in this moment and I slowly opened one eye as I lifted my head to feel this acknowledgement flood in. I could sense that this was a moment of initiation. I was being invited into a new phase of bravery, the vulnerable and terrifying practice of unapologetically claiming my voice. Sally helped me to see that there was a more powerful, resonant depth that I wanted to tap into inside myself and synthesize into genuine, honest expression, verbally, physically, and energetically.

That was five years ago. I have taught hundreds of yoga classes, and dozens of expressive arts and somatic learning workshops, AND I am still deep in the scary challenging place of finding my voice. GULP, I continue to recognize this is a life long cyclical growth process. Sally Atkin’s poem. “Tell Me, She Said” is a grounding poem that has helped me over the years in opening to my own inner magic and serves as a reminder that there is ALWAYS a song singing itself through me and it is always worthy of being shared and heard.

Tell Me, She Said

By Sally Atkins

Tell me, she said:

What is the story you are telling?

What wild song is singing itself through you?

Listen:

In the silence between there is music;

In the spaces between there is story.

It is the song you are living now,

It is the story of the place where you are.

It contains the shapes of these old mountains,

The green of the rhododendron leaves.

It is happening right now in your breath,

In your heart beat still

Drumming the deeper rhythm

Beneath your cracking words.

It matters what you did this morning

And last Saturday night

And last year,

Not because you are important

But because you are in it

And it is still moving.

We are all in this story together.

Listen:

In the silence between there is music;

In the spaces between there is story.

Pay attention:

We are listening each other into being.

Sally Atkins

Sally Atkins

Sally’s poem encourages me to listen deeply in the quiet moments and take more sacred pauses throughout the day as well as pushing my edges with sharing my voice. I recently attended an illuminating and edge-pushing poetry-as-medicine day retreat with Mary Ellen Lough - honoring the winter solstice. Through simple writing exercises, vivid guided imagining, and sharing within the group, we dove into the waters of our inner being to explore our multifaceted relationship with Light and Dark. My associations with light and dark initially appeared oppositional, but as I continued to sit with my associations, light and dark began to mingle and weave together as a puzzle would, revealing a larger scale perspective. My associations with light and dark became inseparable from one another, dancing and swirling just as shadow and light require each other to exist. The vast chasm I had imagined between joy and pain, loneliness and togetherness, laughing and crying, birth and death began to close and I realized that much of the suffering and fear I endure on a daily basis is the painful and exhausting side effect of maintaining BLACK and WHITE, GOOD or BAD, ALL or NOTHING thinking. What a revelation!

Dancing

in and out

in and out of togetherness

and solitude.

I forget while I’m in it

that solitude

IS an interactive dance.

And there is a togetherness

even when I feel the most

empty, alone, afraid.

The practice of embracing solitude as a very special relationship with self and with my environment has opened a doorway for me to allow my heart to relax into itself, to feel my tissues soften around my bones, and to feel my breath as a dear, supportive companion that is always with me. This does not mean that I don’t experience anxiety, loneliness, worry, discomfort and restlessness. I am learning to acknowledge edgy discomfort as an invitation to look deeper inside and offer a listening ear to the inner parts of me that want to be held, acknowledged, and nurtured. My therapist refers to these moments as VITAL NURTURING moments. It requires me to recruit my, wise, Inner Witness Self to step in and hold space for whatever feelings are present. The Inner Witness self does not categorize, judge or label feelings and thoughts as good or bad, right or wrong. This gives space for my feelings, thoughts, and sensations to exist. I anticipate and hope that this will be a practice I engage in for my entire life. I am realizing that there is no end goal I am trying to reach. Right now, my growth edge is calling me to write and put my words and thoughts into a public forum. Putting my voice out there in an honest, unfiltered way feels uncomfortable, nerve wracking and downright scary. So here I am, letting these words out onto the page while I practice offering a supportive inner voice to the parts of me that feel threatened, insecure and judgmental.

Pablo Neruda’s poem is also a staple that I keep in a visible, place that I can revisit again and again as I continue to bump and fumble along this journey of discovering and sharing my voice.

Poetry

By Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where

it came from, from winter or a river.

I don't know how or when,

no they were not voices, they were not

words, nor silence,

but from a street I was summoned,

from the branches of night,

abruptly from the others,

among violent fires

or returning alone,

there I was without a face

and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth

had no way

with names,

my eyes were blind,

and something started in my soul,

fever or forgotten wings,

and I made my own way,

deciphering

that fire,

and I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure

nonsense,

pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens

unfastened

and open,

planets,

palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,

riddled

with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry

void,

likeness, image of

mystery,

felt myself a pure part

of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.