Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Time for a Change

One simple practice for creating meaningful change in your life.

Forget about simple new year’s resolutions.  They don’t work.  Take some time to really ask yourself what you want to be different in 2012 and what gets in your way of doing it.

In my work with groups outdoors, there is an activity I do sometimes as a “warm up,” that me a lot about the people in the group.  It is called “Time for a Change” and it is quite simple.  Everyone stands in a circle and one person volunteers to come into the center and lead one stretch or movement.  That person is in the middle until someone calls out “time for a change” and takes the spot in the middle. 

This simple exercise shows how willing we are to initiate change and how we can also tolerate boredom, discomfort,  or just things not being right for us for a long time without wanting to be the one to change it.  And we all have the power to change it at any time. 

Some people jump right in and just do it without thinking too much and do something just to do it.  Some people feel they have to know the right thing to do before speaking up.  Some people know exactly what they need but are too afraid to put themselves out there to do it.

My inner dialog the first time I did this went something like this: “Oh, this is good, everyone else has some great ideas for things to do, and I’m enjoying this.  Oh, nobody is doing a stretch for my back or calves, they really could use it.  I don’t know if I really want do that on the woodchips, it might be uncomfortable.  Maybe nobody else wants to do that, then I’ll be out there leading people in something they don’t want to do and I’ll look silly.  OK, now most everyone else has done something and I still haven’t got to do the thing I want to do.  I guess if I want this to happen, I need to do it.  I guess I’ll jump in now.”  I call out “time for a change.”  I step in the center, I get a little nervous having everyone look at me, I do my stretch, someone says “Oh, good one, I needed that.” I start getting uncomfortable that nobody is taking over.  Finally someone jumps in and I step back out thinking, “Oh, that wasn’t that bad and my body feels better now.”

Of course, I’m not writing about this so you can form a circle of your friends and run though some stretches, but if you want to go for it!  I hope to get you to think about what keeps you from calling for a change in your own life?  We all go through a similar process with making any change in our life.  Is your process something like mine?  Are you waiting for someone else to do it for you? Are you afraid of putting yourself out there?  Do you feel you have to know the exact right, perfect thing to do before you will risk making a change?  Do you rush right in and say something has to change before having any ideas on what to change? Would you rather just continue tolerating things not being right for you than risk actually getting what you want or need?

Start by checking in with yourself honestly.  Are you happy with everything in your life, or do you feel there is something that is off that you could change?  What change do you feel wants to happen?  What keeps you from doing it?  Can you risk going for it?  If it feels too big to just jump into with both feet, can you identify some small steps that you are willing to commit to? 
  1. Take the time now to ask yourself, “What is important to me?”  Keep asking it.  What is really important to you? 
  2. Write the top 3 things on a card and put them on your bathroom mirror.
  3. Then ask yourself each night as you brush your teeth, how much of my day did I spend on these things that are really important to me?  Was I better today than yesterday?  How will you do better tomorrow? 

Slowly but surely, you will start to create real change in your life.  Change takes daily commitment and takes time.  But if you are really working on the things that are important, it is worth it and it is inevitable!  Here’s to you defining and creating the you and the year you want in 2012!


Let's continue the conversation! You can find me at or email  Want to meet?  Here's how.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Redefining Relationship

How our relationships teach us about ourselves

Many of us are looking to change something in our lives.  Have less stress and anxiety, feel better, be happier, increase confidence, know our life path, and more.   Yoga and meditation are really fantastic tools to help us with these things and so much has been written on how and why they help.  So I won’t focus on that here.  But if we really want to change our external world and not just our internal world, we need to take what we learn in our practice and bring it out into the world and the path to doing this is through relationship.

To do this, we start to become more mindful and aware of our relationships.  We have a relationship with everything.  We have a relationship with our partner, our friends, our kids, co-workers, “strangers,” money, the unknown, our home, nature, technology, our possessions, everything.  We can’t fully know ourselves unless we know ourselves in relationship to “other.”  It is so easy to continually seek the peace we can find on the mat or the cushion, but then it can become an escape, something we do outside of our world.  When our practice is only solitary and focused on seeking peace, it is easy to become trapped in our own patterns and our practice is disconnected from the world.  When we take that present focused, open, curious, non-judgmental attitude of our practice out into the world and into our relationships, we are able to more fully see ourselves.

Most writing on relationship is targeted  toward lovers simply because this is sadly the only relationship many of us are willing to risk intimacy with, and even then many of us still don’t.  But it is a huge mistake to withhold or limit our intimacy.  Through intimacy, honesty, and awareness, relationship is a huge mirror for us to really see ourselves in ways we are able to ignore when we try to do it all ourselves. 

Michael Stone, in his book Awake in the World writes:
Yoga is the expression of intimacy in every one of our actions in three spheres: body, speech, and mind.  Intimacy does not simply refer to sex. I translate the word yoga as “intimacy” to connote the fact that everything is inherently contingent on everything else, from the basic molecules and strings that hold the world together all the way to the familial bonds that give rise to families and character.  When we see that interconnectedness runs through each and every thing we encounter, we begin to see that entering our lives fully is the deepest kind of intimacy we can ever encounter (emphasis added).  In fact, in order to heal, we need to find an intimate connection to whatever it is that ails us.

When we expand our definition of relationship, we can choose to be in authentic, intimate relationship with anybody or anything.  Just as intimacy is not about sex, authentic, intimate relationship need not be limited to just one person as we so often assume.  To be in authentic relationship takes trust, openness, honesty, and willingness.  We can say to ourselves, “I’m not going to be authentic with this person because I don’t trust them,” but really that is just placing blame and responsibility for our trust on someone else.  Ultimately, we only need to be trusting, willing, and open with ourselves.

The first step is being fully honest and intimate in our relationship with ourselves.  By sitting with ourselves in acceptance of whatever we are feeling, in the calm, peace, and happiness we seek, but also the agitation, fear, judgments, aloneness, sadness, and frustration.  For years I used to use mindfulness practice such as yoga and meditation as a form of disassociation – I would just concentrate on something as a way to block out what I was really feeling.  There is value in being able to not identify and define ourselves by our thoughts and feelings, but we can’t just ignore them forever either.  I was being distant with myself, rather than intimate.  I would dismiss feelings or negative parts of myself as being undesirable.  But this is a goldmine of information and exactly what we need to pay attention to in order to move closer to what we are seeking.  As they say, “The only way out is through.”

John Wellwood writes, “Each of us has these two forces at work inside us: an embryonic wisdom that wants to blossom from the depths of our being, and the imprisoning weight of our karmic patterns. From birth to death, these two forces are always at work, and our lives hang in the balance. Since human nature always contains these two sides, our journey involves working with both.”  When we can be with ourselves fully and look at our patterns, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t, and be with whatever we are feeling with acceptance and curiosity, we can then bring our practice into the world.  And through this intimate knowing of our patterns, we are able to take them off auto pilot and touch more deeply the peace and wisdom that we seek through our practice.

Once we begin deepening the relationship with ourselves, we can become more aware in our relationship with our partner or closest friends.  When we can take this same level of intimacy to our relationships with other people, we can start to see even more clearly our patterns and how they help us and how they limit us.  Through speaking our truth in the moment, we expose ourselves in ways we can’t in solitary practice.  We can then see the reactions, reflections, and support of the “other” which helps us work more fully with what is inside of us.

The one who has a good
friend doesn't need any mirror.  ~Rumi

We can choose to be intimate – that is open, honest, and vulnerable with whomever or whatever we want.  And it is through this type of relationship that we become more fully exposed to and aware of our programming as we move through our daily lives.  As we do this, is important too to be gentle, patient, and loving with ourselves too, as we start to see ourselves more clearly.  It is only with this patience and self-love that we can start to change our patterns. If we fight them or dislike them, they only grow stronger.  And by being more transparent with others, we open ourselves up to the possibility of healing through being seen and accepted even in the things we don’t want people to see.

Being someone who tops the charts on the Meyers-Briggs introversion scale, I can tell you that it is scary to risk sharing in this way with even those closest to us.  And I know it is scary for the extroverts too, this level of deep sharing.  But when we bring this practice into our relationships, we get real world application, we get triggered, and we get to look in the mirror in a much stronger way then we will ever achieve practicing alone.  I have found the benefits are well worth the risk and fear.  It is a practice in and of itself to try to do this consistently.

Every moment of our day is ripe with reflections of our patterns and opportunities to practice.  For example, just today I was talking to someone who knows I bike commute most of the time and he said “Be careful at the bike rack, if I rode today.” With those last four words, I noticed myself get tense, my throat clenched, my arms and shoulders pulled slightly in, and my stomach tightened.  I chose not to respond to his statement and admit that I drove, but rather changed the subject to something else.  I later asked myself “What was that about?” It was not the first time I’ve seen myself do that, and I realized it was one of my old patterns of wanting to be liked and wanting to be seen as a “good person” so my strategy is to not say anything that could disprove that.  In this case, I want to be seen as someone who selflessly rides my bike everywhere for the environment, but the truth is I drive sometimes, and feel bad about it or maybe I feel bad about not living up to my image of myself.  By witnessing myself in that interaction I got to see my pattern shown to me, but I missed out on being honest about my decision to drive, which may have led to him admitting that he did too, or maybe even reassuring me I’m not a horrible person because I drove today.

The more we choose to be honest, authentic, and intimate, the more reflections we get, the more clearly we are able to see ourselves, and the more chances we get to escape from our patterns.  Each time we choose to be intimate, we get a reflection that is colored by the person or object that is reflecting.  So to really see ourselves clearly in relationship, the more reflections the better so we can start to sort out what is ours, what is theirs, and what doesn’t need to be there anymore.

The deep exploration of ourselves leads to deeper relationships with people and the world.  And deeper relationships with the world lead to deeper exploration of ourselves.  There is no separation. To focus on one to the neglect of the other leaves us only seeing part of the picture.  So let’s have courage and trust in ourselves to be more fully open and intimate with all our relations – in our relationship with ourselves and with “other,” so we can bring the changes we seek both within ourselves and out into the world.


What do you think?  Let's continue the conversation! You can find me at or email  Want to meet?  Here's how.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting Down to Busyness

I’ve been delinquent in writing, but it certainly is not because I’ve been lazy.  Or maybe I have.  A saying I ponder often is: busyness is a form of laziness.

I know it is true for me.  There is a never ending stream of “things to do.”  Email, chores, family duties, email, paying bills, keeping in touch with people, articles to both read and write, shopping, email, books  to read, videos to watch, facebook, email… If I spelled it all out the list would be endless, like my email. When I’m caught up in “git-r-done” mode (sorry, I’m originally from the south), it feels like I’m on an endless treadmill of doing.

As you know, I’m someone who advocates for mindfulness and self-awareness, and I do my best to walk the walk too.  So each night I sit for at least 5-15 minutes to “do nothing.”  To just sit and let my mind slow down and check in to see where I’m at on this day.  But I notice when I’m caught up in my periods of busyness, it is so much harder to actually drop in.  My mind wants to just keep going, “don’t stop now,” it says, “you’ve got much more to do on your list.”  It’s like my system wants to stay in motion. As Newton taught us, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion.” I guess the laws of physics apply to us too!

It really does feel like that to me, like when I’m in the “git-r-done” mode I have momentum on my side, which helps propel me through my tasks and with momentum, I’m able to get more done.  I’ve also noticed though, that staying in this mode of busyness comes at a price.  I know I lose a level of quality, precision, and depth.  The focus is more on the checking things off the list than it is on doing things well.  I tend to cut corners.  And I don’t really give myself into the richness of each moment that I have with the people that are involved in my interactions.  (But that is a topic for my next article on relationship coming soon!)

But here is the most important consequence in my opinion. By staying in motion, it is like we are on plane on a boat.  We are skimming along the surface not really sinking into the water. We lose touch with ourselves.  I know when I’m in busyness, I’m less available to my feelings, my empathy, my intuition, and I’m less available to connect with other people.  I lose touch with how “I’m” doing and I’m just “doing.”  I start to feel like the cog in the wheel.  I’m less available to myself and to the people in my life that matter most.  Any of these sound familiar?

Losing touch with ourselves and our close relationships is a big problem.  It reminds me of the Rwandan proverb: “You can out-distance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.” Eventually there comes a time when we can’t ignore what is inside of us any longer.  In our culture, because we ignore it for so long, it builds like a volcano and comes out in  the form of a crisis – in our relationships, jobs, or mental health (depression or anxiety anyone?).  But the problem with this is we are then doing crisis work rather than health and growth work.  We have less of our resources available to healing and being able to really change because we are too busy trying to put out the fire. 

By staying in busyness all the time, we are really being lazy and neglectful in tending to our humanness and it causes problems in our personal lives.  It causes disconnect within ourselves and in our close relationships.  Further, it decreases our availability to each other and decreases the quality of our work when our focus is on just getting things done rather than getting things done well and learning from the experience. 

So how do we change this?  Well, it requires a shift in values and change in our expectations.  Is our priority our humanness or our business?  There is the cliché, "No one on their deathbed ever said, 'I wish I spent more time at work,'” so I know where we say our values are, but we don’t actually do it.  We need to slow down and give ourselves permission to not get as much done in this moment.  We need to re-prioritize and put our relationships with ourselves and the people in our life first. 

Ironically, as I write this my 2 year old daughter climbs on my lap.  At first, it was easy for me to set the computer aside and play with her. I’d let her climb on me, flip her upside down, give her some tickles, we laugh and I put her down and pick the computer back up and keep writing.  Then she climbs up again, we repeat.  After the 3rd time I realized I was starting to get a little annoyed, because I just wanted to get this article finished! I had momentum! Luckily, I am writing about this exact thing at the moment, so I was able to close the computer and play with her until she was done playing.  We laugh together, I laugh at myself, I learn.  It is a constant practice.

It also helps to check in with ourselves from time to time throughout the day.  Take a pause and a few deep breaths whenever switching tasks.  Get outside and take a slow walk over lunch trying to notice as much as you can about your internal and external environment.  At each red light, take a few deep breaths, check in with yourself and see how many beautiful things you can identify.  Or maybe even do a quick 2-5 minute meditation once or twice in the middle of the day.  I always sit for at least 1 minute and just breathe and settle before starting a session with a client.  These things help to be sure we don’t get too far away from ourselves.  Make sure we don’t get so swept away on the “git-r-done” train that we get carried too far from ourselves and what is really important to us.  Because when we get too far carried away, often it takes a huge leap, an expensive ride, or a crisis to get back.

I realize that even these suggestions on how to stay in touch with ourselves are more things to do and can easily be viewed as one more task to add to the list.  If we look at our practice as another task in our busyness, we will still only slow the boat down, never really resting back in the water.  So let’s try to remember that staying in touch with ourselves and the people in our lives is our primary job.  All the rest is extra credit.  Let’s not be lazy by doing so much that we lose touch with our real work.  Will you help remind me? 


Let's continue the conversation! You can find me at or email  Want to meet?  Here's how.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lessons Learned from Mowing the Lawn

Lessons Learned from Mowing the Lawn
or “How to deal with shit”

Author’s note: Please excuse my heavy use of the word “shit” in this essay. When I talk to my son, I use the word poop. But poop does not convey the full meaning of what I’m trying to express. So I chose to write this using the word shit to be as accurate as I can. I know the word shit is offensive to some people, so if this includes you, I ask for your forgiveness. Or maybe you can just do the opposite substitution and read the word poop whenever you see shit. Or if it is really offensive, maybe just click away and forget I ever wrote this so it doesn't taint your image of me as a person.  You can choose whatever works best for you. Humble regards, ~ch.

This weekend I mowed the lawn. I had been away for a few weeks. We have two dogs. My four year old wanted to help, which looks like him holding on to the mower while I try to maneuver it, him, and myself through tall grass while avoiding landmines (aka: dog crap) that you can’t see due to tall grass.

So what seemed like a standard beautiful Colorado afternoon turned into an adventure; filled with excitement, quality time with my son, and a number of lessons about life. Here is what I learned:

• When you don’t keep up with shit, it can accumulate quickly.
• It is sometimes hard to see shit until it is right in front of you.
• It seems like shit is all around us, but it is only helpful to pay attention to the shit you are about to step in.
• Sometimes we can see the shit other people are near. It is only helpful to point out the shit they are just about to step in. Otherwise, we just spend all our time pointing out shit.
• Sometimes, despite your best efforts to warn them, people will still step in shit. It does not good to get disappointed, blame, or worse, say “I told you so.” All we can do is just love them and help them clean themselves up.
• We can’t get so focused on keeping others out of shit, or we’ll step in it ourselves.
• While we can just step over it, we have to clean up the shit that is in our way. Otherwise, we may step in it later when we are not paying attention.

When I talk to people or read the news, it seems like most of the shit everyone is talking about is the economy, what the government is doing (or not doing), money, or jobs. But there is plenty of other shit we deal with that is directly in our control. Lots of the shit that is right in front of us comes from our relationships with our partners, parents, kids, co-workers, and especially our relationship with ourselves.

What shit do you see and are busy pointing at that you don’t need to be right now? What shit is right in front of you that you keep stepping in because you don’t take the time to clean it up? Are you more concerned with pointing out shit in front of other people that you are not paying attention to the shit in front of you?

And of course, I can’t end this without stating the obvious. The grand-daddy of all the lessons. The universal truth. “Shit Happens.” I can’t take credit for this; I think the bumper sticker guru coined it. But what are we doing with the shit? Are we learning from it? Are we cleaning it up? Are we ignoring it and letting it pile up? Or worse, are we just pointing at all the shit and not doing anything about it?

Who knew dog shit could teach us this much? OK, enough talking about shit. I need to get back to cleaning it up.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dynamic Mindfulness

Here is an article I wrote that was published in the Yoga Connection Magazine this week.  If you are local to Fort Collins, be sure to find a copy around town and check out all the other great writing it holds!  Enjoy.

“I’m a busy person; I just can’t find the time to meditate…” Sound familiar?  It is important to have a regular sitting practice of a relatively long duration, but if you don’t, do not think the magic of mindfulness is out of your reach.  It only takes a few seconds of attention throughout the day to be able to start to reap some of the rewards of mindfulness.  That is all it takes to learn about what is happening inside, which is a big part of what mindfulness does for us.

Formal practices like meditation and yoga asana work to sharpen the tool of our mind. Then the real work comes in every moment of every day, as we go about our daily duties and interacting with the world around us.

The brain is extremely good at being efficient.  It takes in over 4 million bits of information per second, but it is only able to send 2200 bits to the cortex for processing.  The way it filters out what gets sent on is through classifying experience and creating patterns from what it has already learned.  It learns to recognize things then files them away into neuron firing patterns we call beliefs, causing most of our taking in of new information and reacting to our environment to be automatic.

This demonstrates that we don’t really see the world as it is; rather we see the world as we are. Two ways to uncover these automatic patterns and increase our ability to perceive differently are mindfulness and utilizing the reflections of other people in relationship. Mindfulness is like a zoom lens that helps us to see and examine all the layers of patterning inside us. Relationship is an external mirror that gives us a set of eyes outside of us.  When combined, we are able to truly see ourselves inside and out. 

One of my teachers is fond of saying, “life is one big long sloppy probe.” Life is constantly poking and prodding us to help us to see where we currently stand.  All day long we get a chance to look at our stories, our automatic behavior, patterning, and reactions.  This is where the magic of mindfulness is most useful, otherwise we continue on autopilot.  Some might think it is not necessary to waste any time looking at these things, we should only focus on the positive and light.  However, by looking at the things in us that we do not want to look at, our shadow can often reveal many of our automatic behaviors. I know that I have personally used the veil of calling myself a “spiritual person” as a cover for not seeing some of the things I think and do that are, let’s just say less than divine. 

I once thought we needed to just strive for purity of consciousness, to just think good thoughts and do good things,  but I have learned to do that it is necessary to look at and know all of patterns and beliefs otherwise they come out when we least want them to. It is these patterns, habits, and beliefs that we have to work with in this life and it is through knowing these things which are not us that we can start to know who we really are.  It is sort of like cleaning the mirror – you have to first know the mirror is dirty, then you need to know what kind of dirty it is in order to grab the right types of cleaners, then you have to work to clean the mirror before you can see the pure reflection underneath.  When we can look at all of our patterning, we can find all the things that are not us, in order to see what is really is us. 

So if we are going to look at ourselves through the lens of mindfulness in every moment, it is especially important to remember to be kind, gentle, and compassionate with ourselves. When we really start to look at ourselves in this way, honestly and thoroughly, it is easy to get down on ourselves.  We must remember that everything is perfect and right – there is nothing “wrong” with us.  And it is not just a good idea to be gentle with ourselves because it feels good, it is through loving the darker parts of ourselves that they lose power. When we hate them or ignore them, we just fuel them.  By choosing to look at and accept our automatic responses throughout the day, we gain more awareness of our nature which leads to more freedom and more choice in not being bound by it. 

The richest moments for us to use mindfulness are in every moment of every day when we are engaging with the world and the good news is that it doesn’t take long periods of time. Our brains are quick! It is engaging with the world and in relationship with other people that our patterns are most active.  By tuning in to what is really happening inside, we can start to recognize when we are on auto-pilot and when we are responding with conscious awareness and choice.

Through internal self-study of a regular mindfulness practice, using moments of mindfulness throughout our day, and combining that with studying our interactions with people and our world, we can get the complete view of our system.  By looking at all these layers and embracing them with love and acceptance, our patterning loses its strength.  It brings our shadow into the light, and then we are not controlled by it and we are more free to be our true selves.  By shining the light of mindfulness on all the things that are not us, we are able to see them more clearly, give them less power, and then start to see who we really are.

Chuck Hancock, M.Ed., NCC has been on his own inner life adventure his whole life, but has only started becoming more aware of it as a practitioner and student of yoga and contemplative practices for the past 8 years.  Chuck is trained in the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, a mindfulness based body-centered form of self exploration and he facilitates experiential groups and individual counseling.  He can be reached at

Friday, August 5, 2011

The River

The River
One of the things I love about Colorado is the multitude of ways to be outdoors.  I have hiked all over the land, climbed mountains tall, steep, and wide, rolled through the hills on bike, floated down the slopes on a snowboard, and kayaked it’s rivers.  But I’m not an adrenaline junkie; I do these things because each time I go spend time outside, these things teach me about life.

This year has been a huge water year on the river and my schedule has not let me spend as much time as I would have liked on the river (read: at all).  So I’ve been thinking a lot about the river.  How it has a yearly cycle.  It grows and contracts.  Each time I visit it, even in the exact same spot, it is different, it is constantly changing. The river is also good at subtly and not so subtly wearing away at things, polishing things, and clearing out things.

The very first time I was in a whitewater kayak I was pretty scared.  I was just floating along in the current, only dipping my paddle in if I felt I was forced to maneuver. But I learned that when you are not putting your paddle in the water, it is much easier to be pushed around by the waves and get taken places you don’t want to go.  But when I was scared, I didn’t want to put my paddle in the water, I was just concentrating all my energy on trying to maintain “balance.”  Really, I was frozen in my fear and anxiety.  It is easy for me to get stuck in my head, thinking about what might happen, but when I’m doing that I’m not stable, connected, or participating with the river. 

Once I finally decided to put my paddle in the water, I noticed the current grabs it hard.  Of course feeling that while being scared made me only want to put a small part of my paddle in the water.  And putting a little bit of paddle in the water is better than nothing, but if you really want to go somewhere, you have to put your whole paddle in and pull on it.  But sometimes being scared causes me to overreact and paddle too much.  The nice thing is I learned you I can always put your paddle back in on the other side and correct.  Just having your paddle in the water and taking a stroke makes you much more stable.

Most of the time I do pretty well on the river, I’m cautious and I have learned a little bit about how to work with the river, it’s currents, and obstacles.  Some obstacles you can see and plan for, others are just under the surface and it takes practice to see them and you have less time to react.  But even the obstacles are helpful, because right behind them there is a place to rest. 

Sometimes I do get a little careless or in over my head, and the river will flip me over.  I usually try a few times to perform an Eskimo roll to bring myself and my boat upright.  Often, I’m a little panicked about being in such a low oxygen environment where it feels like death is imminent, so my attempts to roll back up will fail. So I pull the release handle on my spray skirt, maneuver out of my boat and come back up for air.  Luckily, this is never a sport I do alone, and a friend is usually close by who will help make sure I get to shore and help me collect my boat and paddle.  After taking a few breaths and draining the water out of my boat so my load isn’t so heavy, we get back in and continue on down the river.

The river has taught me so much.  Without fully participating in it, just staying in my head due to fear of getting flipped I'm actually more likely to flip.  My anxiety runs out of control.  Ironically, by staying still and attempting to just be in balance, it is easier to get knocked out of balance.  By engaging with the river with my paddle in, fully I’m more a part of it, I’m more in balance, and I’m able to affect my path.  Every now and then, I still get put in an uncomfortable situation that is really scary, but that’s when I really need a friend to help.  And the thing I was most afraid of is often pretty refreshing once I’ve gone through it, and of course, I’ve learned from it.  If I’m not engaging with the river, I’m just scared, anxious, getting pushed around by its waves into situations I don’t want to be in.

Obviously, life is that river.  And as I was telling my story, the “I” that I spoke about is really all of us.  It’s time to put our paddle in the water.  It’s time to get wet.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to step away from this computer and get back out on the river.  All this thinking about it is no substitute for being on the river.  I’m ready for the next experience, for it is only through experience that we learn.  And I’ve got much more to learn.  See you on the river!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shifting from Talk to Present Experience: How the now informs us about the past

Below is an article I wrote for the Larimer Mental Health Connections newsletter.  I'm sharing it here as well if you are wondering a little more about Hakomi and how it differs from talk therapy.

Sometimes, it really helps just to talk.  Sometimes, it’s as if talk doesn’t really do anything but keep us stuck in the same ruts.  This is when we know that in order to change, it will take a shift out of the same thinking that got us stuck in the first place.  By stopping to actually study our experience – not just what we are saying, but how we are saying it, what we are feeling emotionally, what we are experiencing in our body, and how another person is seeing us, we are able to go beyond the words and start to learn about the patterns that got us there in the first place.

In order to do this, we must use different tools and change where we are looking.  In the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, some tools we use are mindfulness – paying attention to what is happening inside ourselves in the present moment with non-judgmental awareness; experiments – let’s watch what happens inside us when…; and accessing all of our system – especially somatic experience, impulses, sensations, emotions, thoughts, images, and memories.  By including information that comes from more than just talk, we are able to gain access to rich information that would stay hidden if we only engage cognitive functions.

Using mindfulness opens a window and gives us access to a more complete set of information.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience have started to explain how our systems work and why mindfulness and somatic therapies work.  Memories are stored partially in several places.  They have a sensory component, a somatic component, a cognitive component, and an emotional component. If we only access memories cognitively, we limit ourselves to only cognitive memories.  If we take the time to slow down and study everything that is happening on all channels in the present moment, it can quickly lead us to understand more about the organizers of experience – the conscious and unconscious decisions we made about the world that made it seem like a good idea to be the way we are being in the present. 

Asking someone to turn their attention solely toward themself requires an immense amount of trust. Trust in themselves and trust in the therapist. Research has shown that relationship is the most important factor in a positive therapeutic outcome. Hakomi has a strong focus on relationship and demonstrates both why and how relationship heals.

Hakomi draws from systems theory, viewing each person as a system which interacts with other systems. According to Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, we have a branch of our autonomic nervous system that recreates another person’s experience inside ourselves.  In order to have access to this information, we must be mindful ourselves and be in relationship with the other. When this level of relationship is present, it creates a space for a client to explore their system beyond what they’ve explored before and it allows the therapist to have access to information in themselves which more fully informs what it is like to be that other person - leading to deeper connection, empathy, understanding, and healing. 

We don’t need to ask about the past, everything we are doing in the present moment is a result of our past experience.  By tuning in to what is already happening on its own in the system, we can help someone learn more about their own experience and start to see that maybe those patterns that were a good idea at one time are not needed any more.  Then by having new corrective experience in relationship, they are more able to change.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What is an Inner Life Adventure, and Why?

What in the heck was I thinking naming my practice Inner Life Adventures?  Like everything in life, there is really a lot in there.  Inner Life Adventures really speaks to what happens inside all of us in every moment.

Inner - Even though the focus is on the “inner,” integration is everywhere.  Just like there is no separation in mind and body, there really is no separation in inner and outer life.  Our "inner life" - thoughts, beliefs, and feelings we have about ourselves and the kind of world we live in, weather we are aware of them or not affect how we participate in our "outer life" - the world of relationships with friends, family, lovers, employment, and world.

Have you ever made a Mobius strip?  Take a rectangular piece of paper, give it a twist and tape the ends together.  Now put your finger on one surface (not the edge - no paper cuts please) and trace the entire paper.  You will see there is no front or back, no inner or outer. Even though you started with two distinct sides, when you connect them, you see it's all the same. The same is true about our relationship with life.  Connecting these two sides is what we do when we start focusing on our Inner Life Adventures.  We choose to focus on "Inner Life" because it is much easier to watch and it is the only thing that we can hope to control.

Life - Life is rich.  In this practice, we aim to study all of life, both the positive and the things we don’t usually want to think about.  It is all a part of life and it’s all good!  When we start to pay attention to our Inner Life, we gain access to so much more in both our inner life and our outer life.  After all, it is through our 5 senses that we take in information about the world, which registers only inside. 

Imagine for a moment you are walking down the sidewalk.  By focusing on what is happening inside you, you may notice in just this simple act, you are aware of the weather, the surface you are walking on, the people around you, the plants, animals, types of buildings, cars, bikes, and so much more.  Also, you have stories that are starting to play, being triggered by those things. Some people may seem friendly and remind you of someone you love; others may seem scary and make you feel afraid, some people may trigger judgment, some people may bring up your compassion. 

All of this and more is happening inside us at lightning quick speeds, most of it out of our awareness. By learning to pay more attention to what is happening inside, we gain access to that much more of life and we can start to see our patterns of automatic behavior and learn more about how we react rather than choose in every moment of our life, ultimately giving us more ability to create the life that we want, rather than being controlled by it.

Adventures – Looking inside is an exploration.  You never know what might turn up, so it is important to keep a positive, curious, experimental attitude. Sometimes, doing inner work can be tough. Most people, myself included, don't really want to look at those parts of ourselves that are hurt, scared, neglected, or tender because we don’t want to feel those things. When we honestly take a look inside, we will see things that are really awesome as well as things we may not want to see.  By taking the approach that it is all normal and viewing exploration of our inner life as an adventure, every thought, feeling, and behavior is accepted as part of being human, being honest with ourselves and exploring all parts of us can become exciting and fun, seeking out new information about ourselves. There is no such thing as a problem, only information.  We don't explore problems, we go on intrapersonal adventures which help us with interpersonal and "outer life" adventures.

There is so much more that could be said about this, but words can only do so much, your Inner Life Adventure is experiential.  This is enough information to get you started.  By shifting our view of life just a little, to be an exploration of all of life and by looking inside to do so, life becomes much more rich and exciting!  I invite you to contact me and comment below on your thoughts, experiences, and questions. But most importantly, I invite you to fully step into your own Inner Life Adventure!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Greetings and Welcome

Like so many, this blog has been in my head much longer than it has actually been in existence.  I hope you will join me as I blog about a wide range of topics.  It will be one part my personal inner life adventures, one part blogging about the shared inner life adventures of other people in my life, one part practical tips for improving your own life, and all parts totally coming from that voice deep within.  Writing about whatever wants to come out.

I'm feeling like it is a bit risky to blog about both my own personal process right alongside professional posts and linked to and very much a part of my business, Inner Life Adventures. In the interest of full disclosure, I hope to be as transparent as possible, but I'm sure I'll leave some things to my own therapist, partner, and my other personal support circles.  I hope you find this blend of my personal and professional lives helpful, entertaining, and provoking.  I hope that in exposing my own personal and professional process, it will help us all to see more clearly that we are all just human and there is no real separation inside of us.  The only separation there is is the separation we create ourselves.  And we can just as easily work to remove those walls too.

Join me on this journey, and please comment and let me know how this blog impacts you.

Onward and inward,