Jun 302013

Skepticism gets a bad wrap, especially for those of us who follow The Path of Lovingness. To be skeptical is not to be beady-eyed and always looking for the wrong. As the root of  scientific inquiry, skepticism is more about being neutral and staying in the “what else is also true?” frame of mind. When someone presents as beauty, we also inquire as to their shadow. When someone presents as shadow, we also inquire as to their beauty. So, we must learn to listen beyond what may be spoken on the surface level. We listen by entering into a kind of silence so that we can hear more clearly the quiet voice in our bodies and hearts. We listen with our eyes by observing behavior, looking for congruence and incongruence between words and actions. It does not mean we cannot also be loving, accepting and open – it simply means we seek a fuller truth than the one which might be being presented.

The path of the Spiritual Warrior is to be as fully human as possible – to live all of our truths, to honor each emotion and state of being as valid…including doubt. We hold the multiple and paradoxical sates of lovingness, openness, and trustingness – while also gently holding enough sacred doubt to open a window for wider truth to exist.  The Toltec wisdom to ‘be skeptical, but listen’ implies that we go deeper than our stories about who we are, as well as others’ stories about who they are. We look beneath the presentation self in order to see a more Authentic Self.

Questions for practical application

  • What am I not seeing?
  • What am I hiding?
  • What is the beauty here?
  • What is the shadow here?
  • What else is also true?

May you sit into silence so that you may hear the quiet voice of truth. May your trust be tempered with sufficient doubt for wisdom to live fully. May you be fully human and accepting of the full humanity of others. May you know peace.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 262013

Always doing our best doesn’t mean we need to get trapped in the rigidness of perfectionism, because the reality is that our best will change from day-to-day. If I am grieving or depressed, my best might be just getting up and taking a shower. Doing our best allows us to feel both satisfaction and self-respect. When we don’t do our best we often suffer from regret and self-judgment. Understanding that our best changes from day-to-day allows us to not waste our time or energy in self-judgement.

When I was in grad school for counseling we learned that the best parent is the good-enough parent. Good enough parents are not perfect. They get frustrated, resentful, and overwhelmed; They are fully human. When parents are perfect parents, their kids never learn to self-regulate; They never learn how to handle disappointment or that relationships can have ruptures and that those ruptures can be repaired. As a previous perfectionist, I took the idea and ran with it. I learned how to be the ‘good-enough’ student, the ‘good-enough’ yogini, and the ‘good-enough’ partner. When we accept that on a difficult day, our best may be limited, we surrender to the idea that we can be good-enough. We can accept our limitations and do our best within those limitation. As that even with those limitations we are good. We are good-enough to receive self-love. We are good-enough to not self-critique. And if we’re good-enough, then we are worthy.

May you do your best each day.  May you have compassion on yourself when your best is less than you would like. May you have compassion upon others when their best is limited. May you know peace.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 252013

We make assumptions every day, all day long, and we’re usually not even aware that we’re doing it. Saying don’t make assumptions is a little silly in some ways, because it’s what we naturally do to try and make sense of the world we live in.

Where assumptions really tend to cause our own suffering is when we assume the worst. We have one sliver of information, then we make up a whole story about the sliver of information and believe the story as if it’s true. Then we react to the false story and spend loads of emotional energy responding to a reality that isn’t even real!

The first trick to not making assumptions is recognizing when we’ve made up a story. But, the real work is in communication. Relinquishing assumptions requires a willingness to vulnerably inquire. Getting curious is the cure to assumptions. If someone says something underhanded, or a bit bitchy, You can say, “Hey, that felt a little abrasive to me. Was that your intention?”

Most of our assumptions are rooted in our own perception of the world and our own unhealed wounding. We project our history onto other people’s behavior and motivations. Perhaps you had a very controlling mother. Now your wife is directing you in some project and you start making up a story about how controlling she is and you start resenting it and getting really irritated. You can pause, breathe, soften, and check in with her. You inquire as to her intentions. And maybe you discover she’s not intending to be controlling. Maybe she just thinks this is the most efficient way to get the project done, and her intention is to finish it as quickly as possible so that you two have more time to play or make-love later.

Not making assumptions requires courageous communication. It requires dropping the arrogance and reactivity of the story, and yielding into the vulnerability of not knowing. It requires not only stating feelings and gathering information,  it also requires naming needs.

May you recognize the stories you create. May you fearlessly enter into the vulnerability of inquiry. May your relationships be satisfying and authentic.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 242013

Humans are narcissistic by nature. We live our lives as if everything is all about us, unaware that most of the rest of the planet’s population thinks the world revolves around them too. When we are stuck in the ego state of believing that others’ actions are caused by us, we cause our own suffering by taking responsibility for others’ actions. When we take things personally, we are ingesting a negative Outer World experience and incorporating it into our Inner World experience. We do not have to let hurtful actions or opinions of others be the poison that harms our Spirit. Sometimes, I think we take things personally and take responsibility for being the cause of others’ actions because, on some level, it gives us a false sense of control. If it’s my fault, then I am no longer the victim – If it’s my fault, then I have some kind of choice. This is a well-know symptom of traumas such as child-abuse and rape, but I think it happens on a more subtle level with the micro-traumas of unkindness.

Often interactions with others are rooted in projection. A projection is a defense mechanism in which a person rejects their own unacceptable attributes and ascribes them to others – a classic example is a person who is homophobic because they have not acknowledged their own homosexuality. But, it works at other levels too. So if I had a father who cheated on my mother and that was a traumatic experience for me, I might always assume my husband is cheating. Now if I’m the husband, and I take that personally, I might get annoyed and offended that my wife doesn’t trust me. I might react, get defensive, or get sucked into an argument. On the other hand, if I don’t take it personally, I don’t have to defend against an accusation and I can understand that the projection is really just my wife’s wound that hasn’t quite healed.

Most of the time though, we don’t know others’ history and psychology well-enough to understand what the projection is. But, we still don’t have to take other people’s actions and opinions personally. We can develop a clear boundary that states “this is your stuff.” If the clerk at the checkout counter is rude, do I need to get all huffy (how dare you treat me this way)? He might be miserable with his life and you just happen to be there for him to share his misery with. He might have a headache. You might remind him of his mother with whom he has a conflictual relationship. None of that has anything to do with you.

Now, I’m not saying that we take no responsibility for our actions. If I am bitchy towards people, I am going to cultivate bitchiness, aggression and defensiveness in others. I’m responsible for that. The person I’m being bitchy to though, has a choice in how they respond to my bitchiness. She could get mean back, she could simply not engage and walk away, or she could lovingly confront me on my behavior. Her action is hers to take responsibility for.

A simple way to not take things so personally is simply by repeatedly checking in with yourself and asking yourself “am I taking this personally?” If you are then you check inside yourself and see:

  • What role did I play in this interaction? (What chain of events did I help to set off?)
  • Do I need to modify my behavior in the future (You may not. If me stating a boundary sets someone else off, I’m certainly not going to stop setting boundaries to avoid conflict).
  • If so, then you can think to yourself what you need to take responsibility for and what is the other person’s responsibility. When we detach from taking things personally, we don’t have to suffer the emotional turmoil that other people’s behavior causes.

If you just can’t let go of it, there is another practice you can use that comes from Shamanistic traditions. Find a quiet space, imagine that you and the conflictual person are meeting in neutral territory with your best selves – the place in you that is beyond personality and wounding. Visualize the hooks they have into you, unhook them, and say something like “I give these back to you. They are not mine. May you transform them into goodness.”  Then visualize the hooks that you have into them and say “I take these back. They are not yours. May I transform them into goodness.”

May you learn to not take things personally. May you surrender to grace with yourself and with others. May you know peace.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula CA

Jun 222013

The Four Agreements are Toltec wisdom guides as popularized by shamanic teacher and healer Don Miguel Ruiz. The first “Be Impeccable with Your Word,” speaks to our capacity to have integrity with our words. To be impeccable with our word is no small thing. It requires a level of mindfulness in our day-to-day interactions and the capacity to withhold speech, even when we are charged, triggered, angry, misunderstood, etc. It is usually our emotional states that prevent us from being irreproachable with our words.

Old patterns dictating how we perceive others and ourselves also limit our ability to use our words with integrity. When we speak poorly of others, when we are ungracious towards ourselves, when we erroneously see ourselves as victims, we lose the integrity of our speech. When we are impeccable with our word, when we speak with integrity, we speak only for compassionate truth and love. When we do not speak with loving-kindness we hurt ourselves as well as others. It never feels good to our spirits when we are critiquing. This doesn’t mean that we can’t express anger or set firm boundaries, but to do so with integrity and loving-kindness means that we don’t verbally take others or parts of ourselves hostage.

Almost all spiritual traditions proscribe integrity in speech. The bible (Ecclesiastes 5:2) says, “let not your words be hasty,” and right Speech is part of Buddhism’s 8-fold enlightenment path. So, the first agreement (and the following agreements) are not new, but rather a new package on an old truth for as, Ecclesiastes 1:19 states, “there is nothing new under the sun,” which is to say that there is no magic path, no guru, no ultimate truth, that hasn’t already presented it to the world a thousand times over. Still, the fact that speaking with integrity is addressed in so many world religions tells us that this is an important teaching.

The Quakers have a simple teaching on the wisdom of silence called the three-fold sieve that can help us to put into practice impeccability with our word. We ask ourselves  1) Is it kind?  2) Is it true  3) Is it necessary?

May you pause before speaking so that your words become more precious. May your words be used wisely. May they spread truth with loving-kindness. May your words cause healing rather than harm.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 212013

I write these blogs not just because I’m an educator, but because I also need to remind myself what I already know. We don’t live in a world that cultivates awareness, mindfulness, gratitude and a whole host of other qualities that remind us that we are whole human beings with loving hearts and growing spirits. We live in a world that cultivates consumerism, hyper-individualism that leads to isolation, the sacrificing of ethics to what is legal, fear, etc. I’ve  been thinking about the  last blog I posted in which I talked about the reason why we often don’t accomplish our goals is that we haven’t actually decided to do so – we wish, hope, dream, intend – but none of those are equivalent to deciding. I have become aware that although I am accomplishing many goals, there are two I’ve been stuck around. It has become clear to me it’s because I really haven’t decided to do them – I’ve intended, fantasized and hoped, but not decided. When I decided to do something, the doing of it naturally follows. My understanding of ‘deciding’ is not new to me, but I’d forgotten it a bit somewhere along the way.

Learning is often like that. We learn something. We incorporate it, then it softens over time.  We then have to relearn it again, and again, on a deeper level each time around. Our relationship to ourselves and our relationship to our spouses/partners are really similar. In the first stage of marriage, love is more emotional in nature. Then we go through a rough patch, come out on the other side, and the love we feel is deeper and more based in reality than our fantasy of who we believe our partner to be. Every year we have ups and downs that deepen the way we love our partners so that at year 10 our love is more deeply grounded. ,While there is still emotion, it is rooted more in a life built together, deeper understanding, and greater knowingness. So it is with our own relationship with ourselves. Self-awareness and self-growth are not linear paths. We never fully arrive at perfection; We are an ever evolving species. Self-growth has been compared to an onion. We learn, we grow, we think we’re done with the lesson, but a year or two or ten later, we seem to be working on the same issue that we thought we were complete with. Each time around we work through another layer; We deepen our experience and build upon the knowledge and wisdom previously gained.

I’ve been absent from blogging these last few days as I’ve been simplifying –  including cleaning out my ridiculous amount of books and in that weeding out came across The Four Agreements. The Four Agreements is one truth system that I lived and breathed for a good while, and it’s still an undercurrent. But, perhaps another layer of the onion is called for. Perhaps you’ll join me on this journey. Stay tuned for the next four blogs as we unwrap the four agreements needed to have more love and happiness in your life:

  • Be Impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t take anything personally.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Always do your best.

May you remember the deep wisdom and learning that is already yours. May that wisdom soften your own suffering and the suffering of others.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 172013

The instructions “Decide what to be, then be that,” like many adages, is an oversimplifications of profound truth. The adage does not say “hope what to be” or “want to be,”, it says decide. Hoping, wanting, intending, wishing…none of these really have a lot of power to change much. It is when we make a firm decision, when there is a clear yes and a clear no, when there is no wishy-washyness, but a solid determination – only then can we we that which we desire, because desire isn’t enough on it’s own. When we decide we are making a choice between one or more options. When we decide, we put all other options than the one we’ve chosen in the past, so that the only option becomes the one we have decided upon. The adage, then, becomes a bit redundant because once we make a decision what to be, we will inevitably be that because it is decided already.

There are corollary adages “fake it till you make it” and “act as if” – which both speak to the power of stepping into a reality that is not yet cemented. But it is stepping into the reality that creates the reality itself. There is a documentary I highly recommend that shows this process called “Kumare” in which an American of Indian descent decides to become a guru in order to get across the message that we are all our own gurus. He let his hair grow long, spoke with an accent, put on the robes, practiced yoga and meditation, and even made up poses and meditations for his followers. And after awhile, he became the guru. While I have an ethical issue with the use of deception to teach a principle, the learning from this is that Vikram Kumar Ghandi made a decision to be the guru, then he became the guru in a more real sense than even he’d anticipated. He decided. He became.

When I want something – like losing that 10 lbs I’ve been dragging around with me for the last two years or writing the book I’ve been talking about for the last year – when I want that but am not accomplishing it, it is a clear indicator that I have not yet decided. I do not have a clear yes or a clear no. It is only when I have decided that the thing I desire will actually come to fruition. So if I want to be an author, I have to decide to be that. If I want to be fit, I must decide to be that. If I want to be more forgiving, loving, mindful, ethical – I must make a choice.

May we all know the power of choice. May we follow our hearts’ desires and decide to be our best selves. May who we become be in service to our greater good and the good of those we come in contact with.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 162013

Humans worry. There’s no getting around it. We are biological predisposed to have negative thoughts, images and emotions in order to plan for anticipated potential threats. The problem with worry is that we worry too much. The problem with problems is that we often don’t take them in stride or review them peacefully. Instead, we tend to think ‘worst case scenario’ without coming to solutions – instead, we come up with a scenario that is the ‘bad thing’ and get stuck in the vision of the bad thing. Our foreheads scowl, our muscles tense, our bellies tighten, our joy plummets. Worry, at this level, is not simply a function of planning for possible outcomes, instead, it is both a side-effect and cause of anxiety in a vicious cycle that decreases happiness.

There are 12 practical tools for helping with worry.

  1. Breathe. Breathwork helps to slow things down. Do a body scan and look for tensions. Soften the tensions.
  2. Stay in the present moment. All worry is future or past oriented. Staying in the now is contrary to worry.
  3. Practice positive what ifs. f you’re thinking of all the negative ‘what ifs,’ start thinking of the positive ‘what ifs.’ Thought process like, “what if I lose my job and then I can’t find another and I can’t make mortgage and lose my house” can be given reality checks of all possible outcomes. “What if I don’t lose my job and everything goes on as it always does.” or “What if I lose my job and that forces me to look for work that I really love. What if I find a job and make even more money than I do now. What if that allows me to save up some money so that I know when hard times hit I have a safety net.”
  4. Give yourself reality checks. For example, if you’ve never been homeless, remind yourself that your fears of homelessness are likely unfounded. If you have been, then remind yourself that you survived that so likely you’ll survive it again.
  5. Meditate. Anxiety-based worries make the mind circulate and perseverate, the solution then, is stillness for the mind. Meditation is one form of finding stillness, though seated meditation isn’t always my first suggestion for people who worry. Anything that takes you into ‘the zone’ can do that. It might be crossword puzzles, making jewelry or art, or gardening.
  6. Get in your body. Anxiety-based worries take us out of our physical experience while increasing our physical tension. Relocating ourselves within our bodies is a great way to get out of our heads. Moving meditation practices like tai chi are great ways to soften the speeding up that tends to arise with anxiety, But vigorous physicality like dancing or biking is also a way to move that anxious energy out of your head and body. Embodiment practices like Authentic Movement, Dance/Movement Therapy and some forms of Yoga are great ways to reconnect with the wisdom of your body.
  7. Find a counselor or therapist. Most of us have some trauma or core beliefs that keep us stuck in anxiety-based worries. A trained professional can help you to heal the wounds that cause anxiety and shift the core beliefs that keep you stuck in a worry cycle.
  8. Slow down and simplify your life. Part of worry comes from the practical reality that our lives are often too big for us. We own too much stuff, have too much debt, and do too many activities. All beings need time to rest and recuperate in order to be sustainable. If your life doesn’t allow you space to rest, something’s gotta go.
  9. Get more loving touch. Loving touch calms down the nervous system. So get more massages if you can. And touch your loved ones more. Studies have shown that those who are touching get similar soothing benefits as those who are being touched.
  10. Look for the good and practice gratitude. Gratitude increases joy and happiness and changes our negative disposition into a positive disposition.
  11. Play more. You cannot skip for any length of time and still worry. Try it. Play increases joy, which is like kryptonite to worry.
  12. Practice your faith. Studies show that those who believe in a higher-power and practice their faith do better on mental health scales, including anxiety. So if you believe in a higher-power, hand over your worries to him/her/it/them.

May you be relieved of the suffering of your own anxiety. May you know peace.

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Sabrina Santa Clara – Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling – Temecula, CA

Jun 142013

What if everyone was my teacher? What if not only those I respect, but everyone had something to teach me? What if the lover who just left me, the person who cut me off while driving, the people who irritate me, the ones who make my face crunch up and cuss words stream from my mouth…What if I looked at everyone as my teacher? It would mean that I would have to sit into the humility required to be the student.

I am not, by nature, a humble person. I jokingly refer to myself as an ‘Alpha Bitch‘ – and I’m one of those people who can do a lot of things well…unfortunately, what this often looks like is a conviction that I can do things better than others. I know – it’s an annoying monster ego. And while taking this position shores up my ego, it also disconnects me from others. It elevates me into a kind of hard over-confidence, rather than surrendering me into the yielding place where learning can actually occur.

There is a Buddhist adage that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” If I am perpetually a student, then there will always be a teacher nearby. I tend to orient towards a practical spirituality, and Buddhism carries with it a lot of practical tools for living that make sense. It also carries within it the guru principle, as do many religions, which I always find disturbing. I’ve seen far too many people relinquish their own wisdom for some supposed Guru/teacher. I’ve seen far too many Gurus become corrupted with power. But, if everyone is my teacher, then I am not raising one person above me or abnegating my own wisdom, instead, I am willfully softening my reactivity to other people, so that I may learn. Perhaps I need to learn patience, well then, of course it makes sense that someone will come into my life that I find frustrating. Perhaps I need to value myself more, then perhaps someone will come into my life who will not treat me well and I will have to learn to be an advocate for myself.

Of course, being the student does not mean that people are no longer responsible for bad behavior. It just means that I have a choice in how I receive that bad behavior and what effect it has on me. I can become righteously incensed, or I can soften into the humility of student, and ask myself, what is the lesson here for me? Everyday we are given at least a handful of opportunities to deepen, grow, learn. It is up to us to decide what to do with those opportunities.

May we find humility to enter into the role of perpetual student. May our learning be of service to others. May we be worthy and humble teachers.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling, San Diego & Riverside County, CA

Jun 132013

As a holistic  counselor and Dance/Movement Therapist, safety plays a large role in my work with people. We all need a safe harbor to come home; When we don’t have that, we are never able to fully rest. But rest is not our purpose. Our purpose is to follow our purpose, then to rest so that we can continue to go back out and follow our purpose.

There is always a risk in following our purpose. We may have to sacrifice something practical to live it, like  limiting our social life to write that book we’ve been meaning to. We may have to give up a belief about who we are. We must always risk failing, as that’s true of any action we take. If we do not take the risk to live our life’s purpose we will never be fully satisfied. We may have a decent life, but there will always be that nagging dissatisfaction, the “I wish I would have…”

May our purpose be clear and may we all be courageous enough to follow our Life’s Purpose.

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Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Holistic Counseling in Temecula CA