Acceptance vs. Resignation

        ?It is what it is?.  I can?t tell you how many times I?ve heard people say this  recently. It seems to be our society?s new phrase that we currently use to acknowledge that sometimes we?re better off to give up fighting against our circumstances. And I often appreciate the ?it is what it is? mentality?it keeps us sane!  And yet, sometimes, I feel like there is something sinister and unhelpful lurking behind the phrase.

What is motivating us when we decide to stop fighting against our circumstances? Is it acceptance or is it resignation? I?ve become convinced that the two are very different and that we wind up in vastly different places depending on which is behind our ?it is what it is? mentality.

ACCEPTANCE is often sad or weighty, but not helpless. Acceptance has a quality of sobriety, groundedness and self-efficacy. While there may be grief associated with acceptance, there is hope for something new.

RESIGNATION is also often sad and weighty, but there is helplessness connected to it. Resignation has a quality of lying down, of sinking, and of powerlessness. Rather than grief, there can be a simmering resentment associated with resignation. I rarely detect hope in the face of resignation.

In the counseling room, I feel like real work can be done if my client is in the place of acceptance. There is a clear mind and ready spirit for whatever may be required for the next phase. Resignation, on the other hand, is reflected in muddied and ruminative spirals. It is very hard to move anywhere when a client is in the place of resignation because the spirit of helplessness is so strong. Acceptance leads to resolve, change, and even determination while resignation leads to paralysis, bitterness, and sometimes depression.

How have you successfully made the shift form resignation to acceptance?  What do you think the key is to staying in the place of empowered acceptance of unchangeable circumstances in your life?

 

Many conversations about acceptance versus resignation happened in response to my recent blog ?Milk in a Hardware Store? (click here to read it). At it?s best, the shift I?m talking about there is one towards acceptance, not resignation.

The Pursuit of Happiness

I?m always skeptical about people who tout happiness as the ultimate human experience. If anything, I believe our society overemphasizes happiness and that direct pursuit of happiness is actually a fairly ineffective way to find it. So, I have to be honest that I was surprised how much I liked this list from a Huntington Post article. It is a list of habits practiced by joyful, happy folks. And so, I pass it on to you for your thought and reflection. Many of these habits can be implemented immediately and are great food for thought. Supremely happy people:

  • Surround themselves with other happy people.
  • The smile when they mean it.
  • They cultivate resilience.
  • They try to be happy
  • They are mindful of the good.
  • They appreciate simple pleasures.
  • They devote some of their time to giving.
  • They let themselves lose track of time.
  • They nix the small talk for deeper conversation.
  • They spend money on other people.
  • They make a point to listen.
  • They uphold in-person conversations.
  • They look on the bright side.
  • They value a good mix tape.
  • They unplug.
  • They get spiritual.
  • They make exercise a priority.
  • They go outside.
  • They spend time on the pillow.
  • They LOL.
  • They walk the walk.

Which of these habits helps your mood? And which will you intentionally try to implement?

For much more detail on each habit, check out the full article HERE.

Cutting the Fuse: Help for Ruminators

In response to my blog last week, I had a few questions about how one goes about avoiding getting swept up into unhelpful thoughts. This is a very important question and one that many counseling theories do not address at all. As I review my own time in therapy as a client, I do not remember one instance of discussing the process of my thinking. We spend our time on the content of my thoughts, which is what most people expect to do in therapy. My biggest, life-altering, break-through came when I understood the brokenness of my thought habits themselves. As my mentor, Carl, puts it, you might come to understand why you started smoking (or sleeping around, or criticizing yourself, or eating too much, etc?) but no matter how much insight you have about that, you are still addicted to nicotine (or artificial intimacy, or self-incrimination, or food, etc?). I was what we call, a ruminator. And I thought that by ruminating, that I was doing something that would get me better, when actually, it was quite the opposite. Rumination is, ?a train of thought, unproductive and prolonged, on a particular topic or theme.? (Osborn, p.44) Rumination can be about anything, but essentially it is a brooding, churning mental activity. And for me and for so many of my clients, it is clearly mood-impacting. Rumination research (yes, there is such a thing) shows that those who ruminate have likely suffered from depression (Kumar, p. 14). This psychological reality is affirmed by the development of contemplative and wordless spiritual practices that teach disciples to notice their thoughts and let them be, while returning attention to an icon, prayer word, or image.

One of the skills that ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) teaches is thought defusion. The term ?defusion? counters our propensity to fuse with certain thoughts. Let?s say the thought ?I?m a loser? occurs to you. If you fuse with this thought then you may start to consider all the ways you can identify your loserness and begin considering your life?s probable disastrous outcome since you are such a loser. After a few minutes of this, you are understandably bummed out and anxious. To defuse the thought simply means to use techniques that help you identify and let go of that thought rather than diving into the content of it. You might say to yourself, ?oh, I?m having the thought that I?m a loser. Thanks for that, mind.? And then you shift your attention back to whatever it is that you are doing. Whether this strikes you as momentously difficult or overly simple, the results can be profound.

Defusion techniques from The Reality Slap by Russ Harris:

  • Identifying your thought as a thought. ?I?m having the thought that I?m a loser.?
  • Thanking your mind for the thought. ?Thank you mind, for the loser story.?
  • Singing the thought to a silly tune. My colleague uses the song from the old cartoon, ?The Flintstones?. ?You are?.such a loser. You?re the Stonage loser family?..?
  • Writing your thoughts on a paper, putting a thought bubble around them and drawing silly characters saying them.
  • Typing your thoughts on a document and then minimizing the screen?or imagining doing that.

And there are many, many more ways to defuse. The point of all this is to be able to live your day-to-day life more grounded and present rather than being caught up in toxic thought processes.

References: The Mindful Path through Worry and Rumination by Sameet Kumar and Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals, Ian Osborn, The Reality Slap by Russ Harris.

I will be recharging my batteries for the rest of July. I will resume blogging in August.

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Ultimate Freedom

?The ultimate freedom that we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell on??Dallas Willard

Trouble is, most of us live as virtual slaves to wherever our thoughts may ramble or wander rather than recognizing our efficacy in the very act of attention. I often do attention-training exercises with clients to instill this point. I ask them to listen as I recite a poem with their full attention; focusing on my voice, the words I say, the meaning of the poem, etc. Then I have them focus their attention on the traffic noise outside the office while I recite the same poem. Every time their attention wanders towards my voice, they are to pull their attention back to the traffic noise and allow my voice to be in the background. While focusing attention on the traffic noise is more difficult, it is doable for most clients and makes an important point. Even if thoughts, concerns, worries, self-criticisms, accusations are screaming in your head, you STILL have the ultimate freedom to focus your attention elsewhere. You may have to pull your attention away from particularly sticky thoughts over and over again, but your ultimate freedom still remains.

This ultimate freedom has changed my internal world in the past 5 years. I lived my life up to age 40 with an unconscious belief that I had some kind of mandate to follow whatever train of thought was pressing into my mind. This works fine when my thoughts are peaceful, reasonable, and helpful. The problem comes when the thoughts are anxious, ruminative, and unhelpful. For me, becoming a practitioner of a counseling philosophy that emphasizes tending to the process of our thoughts was paired with a difficult life situation that wrecked havoc on my internal world. I spent the better part of two years preoccupied with mood-altering troublesome thoughts. Had I known then what I know now about attention, the situation would have still been challenging, but I could have done an infinitely better job focusing my attention on my present life and the people and tasks right in front of me.

There was a part of me that thought I was honoring some intense and deep part of myself by being so caught up in my thought processes and feelings. My read on it now is that I was heaping additional suffering on myself for no redemptive purpose whatsoever. I could have sufficiently processed the content of that life situation in about 10% of the time I spent swept up in it. Willard?s ?ultimate freedom? does require some training and internal discipline, but I have become convinced that the work is well worth the effort and leads to being more present and grounded.

The Best Summer Ever!

I?ve heard a lot of mixed feelings about summer?s arrival. Seems that people are simultaneously happy and anxious, wondering if this year?s summer months can live up to their desires. I hear a lot of parents filled with stress about how to juggle work without the structure of school. I hear a lot of very, very ambitious goals out there too. So, how do we go about having a realistic, reasonable, and enjoyable summer? Here are some thoughts that are resonating with me:

  • Get clear on your conscious and unconscious expectations. I realized that I was ramping up for a more relaxed pace when I was moving into a season of less childcare, my husband?s busy season for his work, and a rush of new clients all at the same time.
  • Recognize the gifts the season brings. I find it much easier to get out of bed early in the summer and enjoy being outside early, neither of which is enjoyable to me in the winter.
  • Decide what splurges will bring you joy (within reason) and do it. I?ve decided to buy all the fruit we want and enjoy it fully.
  • Ask what new/fresh spiritual discipline could fit into your life. I?ve started a spiritual book by an author I?ve never read.
  • Enjoy screen time without becoming a zombie. I?m trying to take the tact with my kids that screen time is not the enemy, but I want us to consider how to enjoy it with good boundaries. Screen Sabbaths and creative projects may be involved.
  • Don?t assume that there is sufficient down time in your summer simply because it is summer. Camps, vacations, and houseguests are replenishing in their own way, but may not be all the rest that you or your family needs. I?m trying to ask myself what we all need in the way of days with nothing planned at all.

It seems that the rhythms and seasons of our lives can blur and feel less distinct in this day and age. Sometimes it serves us to find the nuances of the seasons by intentional observation and planning. What connects about this for you? What are your thoughts about having an intentional and grounded summer?

 

I?ve been inspired in part by this article that helps families think through summertime. CLICK HERE for the complete article.

Mental Health on a Platter

What do we each need on a daily basis to have optimum mental health? I like this list coauthored by Daniel Siegel and David Rock as a means of evaluating our own daily mental activities.

 

The Mental Platter:

The seven essential daily mental activities are:

  • Focus Time. When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
  • Play Time. When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in the brain.
  • Connecting Time. When we connect with other people, ideally in person, or take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, richly activating the brain’s relational circuitry.
  • Physical Time. When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, which strengthens the brain in many ways.
  • Time In. When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, helping to better integrate the brain. (Without specifically calling it such, I think this is where spiritual contemplation, meditation, and prayer fit)
  • Down Time. When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, which helps our brain recharge.
  • Sleep Time. When we give the brain the rest it needs to consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

This list can aid us in understanding ourselves as creatures, in the care of a Creator?in need of limits and boundaries. ?The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.? Psalm 16:6.

Which are you consistently practicing on a daily basis? Which do you neglect? And?.why do you neglect it?

What do you do that isn?t on the list? Worry? Ruminate? Argue? Manipulate? Defend? Regret? If you were to sketch your own mental platter, how would it look?

For the full article on the Mental Platter, click here.

 

 

A Tool for Transformation: The Enneagram

Why the Enneagram?

The top three catalysts for transformation and insight in my life have been:

1-relationships

2-suffering

3-the Enneagram

The Enneagram is a personality assessment tool that helps people uncover their motivations and discover how to grow. Enneagram theory suggests that all of us fall into one of nine personality structures that each have their particular gifts and downfalls. We tend to pull towards particular paths of integration and/or disintegration depending on our type. I went to an Enneagram training last winter and the teacher, Michael Naylor, used the terms ?asleep? and ?awake? a lot. Learning the Enneagram has the potential to wake us up to our desires, drives, and fears. As Michael Naylor put it, how do we ?sense our aliveness? in the most profound way.

People use the Enneagram (and all personality assessments) for all kinds of purposes. I had dinner with a recent college grad last night who said the Enneagram wave had swept her college last year. And why not? Personality assessments can be really fun! We get to see what?s unique about ourselves, who we?re like and who we?re not like. There?s a voodoo quality to reading a description of your type??ooo, how did they know me so well??

But the Enneagram has a different quality to it. There?s an element of being found out?.of having our darker desires unearthed. One of my spiritual mentors told me, read all the descriptions and the one you think is most horrible is probably your type.

So why do I use the Enneagram in Counseling and Spiritual Direction? Because at its roots, the Enneagram is all about spiritual transformation.  It is a tool that helps us see what we think the solution is for us (that never works well) and redirects us towards the action that actually is the best solution (but that we may never have chosen). This kind of understanding is critically helpful in therapy and spiritual direction because it can help us press towards real, life-transforming change.

For those of you who have utilized the Enneagram, how has it been a part of your own personal transformation? 

For more information:

–Look at my “Resource of the Month–December, 2012”, The Essential Enneagram.

–Check out www.enneagraminstitute.com . Michael Naylor is a certified teacher with the Enneagram Institute.

This blog is revised and reposted from 11/22/11

Letting Go for Life Beyond Easter

Most people who seek psychotherapy expect at least a certain amount of change to take place, or at least relief. But I think that sometimes clients don?t expect enough. The Christian framework through and beyond Easter is a helpful framework for the process of true transformation for all people. Spiritual writer, Ron Rolheiser has helped me see this and I have applied it to the process of life-change that I want for myself and for my clients.

Passion and Death: the loss of life, or a type of life

            The death of Jesus is reflected in our lives through crisis and loss and is often what brings people in for therapy. An affair has been discovered, a job has been lost, depression has become unbearable, a child was born disabled, or the life one expected has not panned out. Whatever it is, it is the life-shattering crisis. People in this state often cannot imagine surviving or are fighting the reality of the loss.

Resurrection: the reception of new life

            Jesus? resurrection can be reflected by individuals often getting used to the new reality or even embracing the new life. Things slowly normalizes and the individual experiences a kind of wonder at himself or herself for surviving. And rightly so! I?m always amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit. What at one time seemed unlivable becomes the new life?the new normal, so to speak.

BUT FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE STOP HERE. For the deepest transformation, more can happen?

Ascension: the refusal to cling, as ascending beyond the old life

            This is when the individual is in the new life and is able to resist the inextricable pull back to the habits, patterns, and reactions that were a part of the old life. This is our human mirroring of the resurrected Jesus leaving Earth and ascending to Heaven. When ascension does not take place, folks find themselves in new circumstances doing the exact same things that they did before. The payoff is not always immediate. There can be a type of desolation when the old patterns are refused that leaves one feeling empty and lost. The temptation to give up can feel nearly unbearable. But?.

Pentecost: the reception of a new spirit for the new life

?If one persists through Ascension, then Pentecost eventually comes.  Pentecost was when the Holy Spirit came to the early believers in a distinctly new experience. For us, it is in the space of absence and refusing the old ways, that something equally mysterious happens. In the void, there is a unique openness and receptivity. This is when the spirit for something truly different comes. And it looks different for each person, from a prayerful ?aha? to a radical vision. At this point, people can really say that they would never go back to the old life the way it once was. They are changed, refined, and transformed.

Does this resonate with you? Or have you stalled your own process of growth at the point of resurrection? I look forward to hearing your stories.

Shattered Lantern is Ron Rolheiser?s book in which he shares the outline above.

Lessons for Aging

This list is written by Regina Brett to celebrate growing older when she wrote for the Plain Dealer, Cleveland Ohio. While I usually write my own material, I thought Regina?s perspective was such a gift that I wanted to hear your reactions.

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short, enjoy it.

4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Some of your friends and all of your family will.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Stay true to yourself.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry, God never blinks.

16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.

18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It’s never too late to be happy. But it?s all up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive but don?t forget.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have not what you think you need.

42. The best is yet to come.

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Perfect Attendance in an Age of Absence

A couple of days ago our family had a lot of fun playing a board game. We all laughed a lot, no one got overly upset, there were no fights or personal gabs, and no emotional devastation to clean up afterwards. Believe me, it doesn?t always work out this way! I took time to pause and notice how good this everyday experience felt and to acknowledge the significance of it. It was a welcome moment of awareness and gratitude.

How often do we glide through our lives on automatic pilot, missing the subtle moments of meaning, connection, or delight? We can be present in the room, yet absent to the experiences in it. We?re home but not at home, listening while planning tomorrow?s schedule, showing up to the meeting while writing the next meeting?s agenda in our minds. Truth is, restlessness is the norm and staying present is an art. We have perfect attendance but should be sent to detention for being absent.

One of my favorite spiritual writers, Ron Rolheiser, talks wisely about how restless we are in this age. Our restlessness leads us to perpetual preparation and tempts us with whatever we don?t quite have. Rolheiser provides this list to help us all reorient:

  • Life is what happens to you while you are planning your life.
  • I always resented interruptions to my work until I realized that those interruptions were my real work.
  • My neighbor is the person who is actually in my life while I am plotting how to be in somebody else?s life.
  • Love is what you are experiencing while you are futilely searching for it beyond your own circles?and taking the circles around you for granted.
  • Joy is what catches you by surprise, from a source that is quite other than where you are pursuing it.

 

You can find Ron Rolheiser?s book, Against an Infinite Horizon, here. This list is found on page 21.