uncertainty, question mark“Uncertainty” is a word that keeps coming up in various contexts for me lately and it seems so appropriate in the face of acts of violence that surround us. As we try to believe that we are safe in this world, as we try to convince our children of this, we are faced with the fact that the future is uncertain. Tied in with that uncertainty is the reality that we lack control over so much of our lives.

There is a book that sits on a shelf in my living room called, “Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance.” I should say it sits there mostly unread. I’m not sure I’ll ever read the whole book at this point as I’ve had it for almost five years – lets just say, I’m uncertain about it. I’m a big fan of the author, however, Jonathan Fields, writes many inspiring blog posts and hosts a series of videos called, “Good Life Project.”   My problem with the book is that on the one hand he makes statements like, “Uncertainty causes pain” and on the other hand welcomes uncertainty as a way to be more creative. (pgs 197-198)

From my perspective uncertainty is not painful, though it definitely is a fear generator. When it becomes its own point of focus it can be crippling. However, when we accept uncertainty and put our focus on positive action instead, then we can live with this ambiguity.

For instance, I have faced times of uncertainty around paying the bills. Sometimes I have wondered how it will all work out. How will I possibly stretch that one dollar to cover those five dollars worth of bill? If I can drop the fear and analyze the situation, then I’m often able to come up with creative solutions to the situation. However, if I focus on how uncertain and tenuous the situation is, then I become paralyzed and unable to move forward.

My other recent encounter with “uncertainty” was in a discussion with a colleague who is also a grief educator. We were talking about the grief experiences of some of our clients who are cancer patients. I was talking about the anxiety that many of my clients are living with on a daily basis and she honed in on the profound uncertainty of their lives. As our discussion continued we started to delve into ideas around workshops where cancer patients could creatively explore living with uncertainty.

When we create grief workshops we do this as a way for people to examine an emotion. This examination often brings about a resolution or acceptance that allows one to move forward. This does not mean that the emotion will never be encountered again. It just means that you have faced it and decreased its power over you. In this way, you can live more fully and move out of the stuck place that grief and its related emotions often place us in.

Uncertainty: there is so much of it. We find it in the face of violence, terrorism, unemployment, illness, and daily living. It is the truth of our lives and yet by accepting it, maybe even dancing with it, we can live our lives to their fullest potential.

Can-do Attitude

can-do attitudeJust a short and sweet post on leading with your heart’s desire and a can-do attitude.

Earlier this year I agreed to run a half marathon. I’ve never run this distance before and was puzzling over how I would integrate the long training runs into my schedule. Then, soon after, I made another new commitment to volunteer at my daughter’s school. I started to get concerned about my increasing activities.

Using my best project management skills, I pored over my schedule mapping out my commitments versus the hours in the day and making sure there was some time for relaxation and recreation.

It didn’t look good. Then I stopped. I stopped trying to figure it all out. I stopped trying to reassure myself that I would have enough time. I stopped thinking it through so thoroughly and I just did it.

I added the training runs to my calendar and the volunteer commitment too. Then I adopted a saying that seemed to capture my approach:

“Dunno how I’m going to get it done, but I will.”

This seemed to capture it all for me. My heart was saying, “Go for it! Do these things and the details will just have to be figured out along the way.”

I’m proud to report, so far so good.

  • Did I do it all by myself? No way! I had the support of a loving family and the best running buddies in the world!
  • Did I do it without fear? Absolutely not. I doubted and worried like a champion. Then I noticed. I noticed how I felt in my body when I said, “I can.” versus when I said, “I can’t.” I loved that feeling and I nurtured it.
  • Did fear show up again? You bet it did. Now I’m using it as fuel for my fire, just like one of sheroes does.

Wishing you the joy of a can-do attitude and following your heart’s desire.

Fearlessness and Endless Energy

paragliding, fearlessnessLet’s shatter some myths here. There is no state of ongoing fearlessness or endless energy. One may experience moments of fearlessness or heightened bravery. And one may experience days of bountiful energy. However, these are not states that are fixed (or static) in our human experience.

I started reflecting on all this a couple of weeks ago when I saw a post on the MindBodyGreen website, titled, “’Fearlessness’ Is a Myth: Learn to Control Your Fear Instead.” The trigger for my reflection was the word, “control.” In my experience trying to control one’s emotions leads to a lot of angst and internal conflict.

However, the article is much more balanced and helpful than the title implies. The author, Jennifer Mielke, offers three approaches to working with your fear rather than trying to control it or trying to strive for an unattainable fearlessness. The approaches are:

  1. Get familiar with the ways fear shows up in your life.
  2. Spend some time with your fear.
  3. Appreciate your fear.

Familiarity with fear: I would call that being mindfully aware of your emotions. When you’re mindfully aware, you might notice how certain words, settings, sounds, or experiences trigger fear in you. Then you might notice how that fear shows up in your body. Do your shoulders lift? Does your breath shorten or stop? Does your mind scurry in a fit of “What ifs”?

This exploration is part of what Mielke calls, spending time with your fear. The bodily awareness of your emotional state can be that time as can journaling, exercising, meditating, talking with others, or being in nature.

I really love what she says about appreciating your fear. She notes that fear is a way to put the brakes on. And putting the brakes on is something we all need at times. In our go-go-go culture, fear can be a signal that something needs reassessing. Sometimes the thing we fear is not the thing that needs to be addressed, but it can be a signal that something needs reassessing.

I used parts of this process in a similar way a few weeks ago when I heard in my self-talk a string of judgementalness towards myself, friends, and strangers too. When I asked myself where this was coming from I realized I was bone-tired. This deep fatigue had led me on a fighting mental rant to “shield” my tired self.

I, then, acknowledged my fatigue and instead focused on what I could do to help myself feel more refreshed. I appreciated the mindfulness that led me to this awareness of how things were for me in that moment.

Will I be able to rid myself of fatigue, judgementalness, and fear? Absolutely not. Will I remain aware of them and appreciate them and know that they arise and fall as all things in our human experience? Absolutely yes.

Wishing you the freedom and power of mindful awareness.


You can heal your life

to-beat-two-fistsThere is a powerful book that is popular in the alternative and complementary health fields called, “You Can Heal Your Life.”  It was written by Louise Hay who has an amazing story of personal transformation. For many years, I have included this book in the recommended reading list that I provide to Reiki 1 students. With the next printing of my Reiki 1 manual, I will be removing it.

Please note, this post is not a book review as I sometimes do in this space. Rather, I’m writing today about the dark side of the power of positive thinking movement. Also, please note that I am not opposed to positive thinking. Honestly, I think it’s a helpful tool. Our minds can be royal pains in the ass. When we bring awareness to our thoughts and consciously choose to reframe and reword them into a more helpful form, this can be incredibly empowering in our ability to manage our emotions and take action in our lives.

What I am opposed to in the positive thinking movement is the flip side. The side that says that if something “bad” happens to you, it’s because you caused it through your negative thoughts and general self-destructiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really admire Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer. They have helped so many people. What I don’t find helpful is the leap from “Positive thoughts are helpful,” to, “You caused this tragedy in your life. You invited this cancer diagnosis. You brought on this flu. You created the environment where your loved one is violently killed.” Really???!!!

Let’s start with one question, “How is that helpful?” How is it in anyway helpful to assign blame to the person who is facing a debilitating disease or the sudden death of a loved one?

Dr. Dyer’s final blog post recounts a story of a talk he gave where he used a metaphor about an orange being squeezed. In the post he states that when life squeezes you, if anything comes out other than love, it’s because that’s what’s inside of you. Really??!!

How is that helpful to the cancer patient, the widow, and to Andy Parker, for example. Each of them have probably felt anger, grief, and fear. Is this because they were not cultivating love? No, it is because they are wholehearted human beings. It is because they love that they also have these feelings. Life is squeezing them, what we should expect to come out is the whole range of human emotions. Let’s not shame those who are experiencing the so-called “negative” emotions. Let’s extend to them compassion, a shoulder to cry on, and a listening ear — even on their darkest days. Let’s offer them love, not judgement, so they can journey with this life. Suppressing or judging their emotional life will not help them to heal on any level. It will not help them to live their lives fully.

Now this point of view is not isolated to Dr. Dyer and Ms. Hay. (One only has to read the title of the book: “The Gift of Cancer” to get a glimpse of this perspective.) I remember several years ago being in an ICU where across from a cardiac patient’s bed there was a sign saying, “Ask yourself why you’re here.”  Yes, please ask yourself, because we want to blame you and judge you and make sure you know this is your fault. Let me say it again, “this is not helpful!”

Megan Devine has written so eloquently about this subject in the Huffington Post. Her article is titled, “Your Pain Isn’t Your Fault: Why Some Teachers and Gurus Have it Wrong.”  In it she recounts reading a book by Pema Chodron after she became a widow. She becomes infuriated with the book, “The thing that sent me over the edge, never to return again to fully loving or trusting Pema Chodron, was when she suggested that any pain or difficulty you are having in your life is due to a lack of self-awareness, or to some place you needed to grow.” After destroying the book, Ms. Devine resolves never to read, or recommend, Pema Chodron’s books again. As she writes, “Pain simply is. It’s a natural, normal response to loss.” Ms. Devine was not to blame for her feelings and trying to assign that blame to her was . . . not helpful, to say the least.

If you want to help people to make changes in their lives, you have to love them first. You have to take the time to understand them. From there change can happen. Change does not happen from a place of ridicule or judgment over completely normal emotions.

Please, all my helping professional friends, I’m begging you, love first. And remember, you can heal your life without having to blame yourself first.


Book Review: Healing through the Dark Emotions

Miriam Greenspan dark emotions quoteOne of the wonderful books that was part of studying with the Creative Grief Studio, was Miriam Greenspan’s, “Healing through the Dark Emotions.” In this book Ms. Greenspan guides us in living with our grief, fear, and despair. There is so much profundity in this book that it’s difficult to summarize it all here. However, there are two areas that I’d like to focus on: 1. That our dark emotions are a necessary part of being human. 2. When we shun the dark emotions, they have a way of bubbling up in other ways.

In our “power of positive thinking” culture there is little room for the dark part of our emotional lives. Let’s take grief as an example. When someone is living with grief over the loss of a loved one, there are so many restrictions put on their time with grief. There is almost an “Are you over that yet?” mentality as if losing someone is something that one ever gets over.  One of the things that conspires to create a timeline for our grief is workplace bereavement leave policies. Certain deaths warrant a specific period of leave according to these policies and yet rarely do these exceed four or five days.

In addition, the mental health profession has struggled with the distinction between normal bereavement and a major depressive episode in part because they can resemble each other so much and sometimes one does in fact lead to the other. The current DSM puts a short timeline of two-weeks on the grieving process after which the grief is considered complicated and can qualify as a major depressive disorder. This rush to be done with grieving and to get on with our normal lives (which are no longer normal for us because of our loss) creates a situation where one feels isolated and ashamed of the very normal emotion that they are facing — grief. Ms. Greenspan shows us in her book, how if we stay with the dark emotion, if we feel the grief and don’t automatically push it away, then we’ll come to place of wisdom and gratitude. This place is not one where grief is absent, but, rather, one where we can live with it as a truth-teller in our lives.

The second area that I’d like to explore is how when we shun despair, fear, or grief, they have a way of reappearing in our lives. When despair is dismissed, Ms. Greenspan notes that it transmutes in our lives as depression. She writes: “Depression, as I see it, is unalchemized despair. It’s what happens when despair becomes chronically stuck in the body. Depression is certainly not a medical condition in the way that heart disease is. Rather, what we call depression is a culturally acceptable concept for chronic, toxified despair.” (page 124)  She invites us to go deeper into our selves by accepting the dark but fertile aspects of ourselves, examining the depth of our lives and those who came before us, and moving in this world with knowledge about ourselves and faith in our ability to journey with despair.

Another area where we as a culture show our shunning of the dark emotions is with our fascination with violent movies. Ms. Greenspan states that those who view these movies are seeking to feel something on a deeper level. To feel the fear and despair that they have been told are not acceptable. When they view these movies they are allowed to feel these emotions through a socially acceptable form of “entertainment.”

Each section of “Healing through the Dark Emotions” includes suggestions for working with grief, fear, and despair.  (To my delight, she is a fan and practitioner of Reiki as one of the tools for this work.)   I highly recommend reading the book for its profound insights and its helpful suggestions for the healing path.  I’ll leave you with a quote that seems to summarize her approach:

“Your life exactly as it is contains just what is needed for your own journey of healing through the dark emotions. It starts with learning to listen to your heart.” (page 13)

Wishing you heart-filled conversations in your healing journey.

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Fear: Is there really a place inside of me that is always safe?

This post just doesn’t seem to want to come out. (I’ve been writing it for four months.) I am wrapped up in fearfulness writing about fear.  I’m filled with anxiety that I’ll fail.  I worry about how things will turn out and if I’ve said, and done, the right things in the past.  Will I do and say the right things in the future? I’m concerned I’m a worrier and I’ve given birth to one too.  Oy Vey!

Where do I feel it in my body? In my shoulders, in my gut, in my legs, in my feet, in my middle back, in my forehead, in my jaw . . . Where do I not feel it?  So I’m experiencing it.  Really, couldn’t I experience it a bit less, please?

Then I see a billboard that says, “Do something each day that scares you.”  No problem.  There are plenty of things that scare me.  I face them every day:  crossing the street, participating in meetings, walking down the stairs, etc.  I don’t need to go skydiving to find one.

Maybe I’m more fortunate than my more calm and confident counterparts.  Maybe I’m experiencing life more fully than others.  I definitely feel — a lot.  I feel fear and it sometimes grips me.  Most of the time it’s just annoying and potentially embarrassing.  There are plenty of times in life when my fear has embarrassed me, e.g., stuttering in a presentation, shaking in a wedding procession, or being speechless at the wrong moment.  There are even times when my fear keeps me from moving forward.  From asking for the opportunity that will move me closer to a dream.  However, there are times when I face my fear.  When I say, “Yes, I’m fearful, but I’m going to do this anyway.”  Is it a great experience?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Being courageous at moments that require it is vital. I often use Reiki to assist me by drawing on universal life force energy for myself and stating in my mind the desired, positive outcome.  As I’ve reflected and researched on this topic, I’ve noticed that some Reiki Masters even claim they have used Reiki to remove fear from their lives.  Perhaps that is the case for them, but I’m skeptical. I’ve been noticing in the past few weeks a statement in books and blogs that I’m reading where people state that there is a place inside of us that is always safe.  I believe in the soul, I believe in Reiki, how can I not believe that there is a place inside of me that is always safe?

Recently, I’ve been using the Reiki Resolution Technique to work with my fear.  I have held it in my heart and allowed Reiki to do what it will.  At first I feel as if I can’t breathe — not in my lungs, but in my heart.  Then, I feel calm.  I’ve asked my wise self, “Is there really a part of me that is always safe?”  As Christine Reed writes, “. . . nothing can really harm us.”  If I believe this, it will change my life.

I would love to expel fear from my life.  Live fearlessly.  Will fear always be a companion in my life?  Is that bad?  Maybe not, if it doesn’t stop me from achieving my goals and living life fully, that is, if I can push through it and if it doesn’t make others uncomfortable.  Can I love my fearful self as much as I love my brave self?  Can I connect with the part of me that is always safe?

Please share in the comments your journey with fear and Reiki.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Wishing you all courage, when you need it most!

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Reiki: Anxiety and Cancer Treatment

Reiki handsThis past Saturday, I offered Reiki during three one-on-one sessions at the Wellness House in Hinsdale.  The Wellness tune-up room is a spa-type room with dimmed lights, healing music (my current favorite is Steven Halpern’s Music for Healing), and a Reiki (aka massage) table.  I have been practicing here for over a year and each time is an energizing and humbling experience.  In a very general way, you can describe what I do as offering Reiki to cancer patients.  However, each experience is so unique, each person and his/her experiences are unique, and yet each person’s experience is so similar (even in its uniqueness).

Some people come to Reiki in the midst of treatment.  They are thin, nauseated, and engaged in the “battle”.  And yet others come to Reiki after treatment, full of energy and lingering side effects, busy with their work and home lives, and creating their new normalcy.

They all come to Reiki with stress, fear, anxiety and all of the side effects of their emotional lives.  They expect a lot of Reiki.  (Don’t we all?  And why shouldn’t we?  It IS universal life force energy.)  They expect: stress-relief, better sleep, freedom to live their lives.  That freedom might just include the energy to be active all day and sleep well at night from an appropriately tired body.  Or it might be the energy to do the things one loves throughout the day, even reading in the evening, curled up in a favorite chair and staying awake long enough to read more than one page.

Even when the session is ended and they report feeling so relaxed, they often ask in an anxious voice, “What did you feel?  What did you notice?  Was it good?”  And I wonder to myself, “What is my role here as a Reiki practitioner?  Do I diagnose?”  No.  Reiki practitioners do not diagnose.  Can I offer an encouraging and kind word or two?  Indeed, and I do, because invariably that is my experience – it is positive and I feel encouraged.    The Reiki is there for them.  They draw it in and get the healing they need.  Is it a cure-all?  No, unfortunately.  Is it complementary with other modalities and treatments?  Absolutely.  Do they sign up for more and bemoan the fact that they can’t get in more frequently.  Yes.

Reiki provides emotional and spiritual support during cancer treatment.  It helps to mitigate anxiety and fear and their side effects.  With Reiki one can achieve better sleep, increased physical energy and the support of the universe.

Please share your Reiki experiences in the comment section.

Wishing you peace and wellness.

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