Oct 242013
 

I often say that it is not our issues that are really our biggest difficulty; our biggest difficulty is the issues we have with our issues. We often cannot even get to addressing the issue at hand because we are so burdened by our judgment for even having an issue in the first place. When we judge ourselves, the shame that we learned through negative family, community and cultural experiences is reinforced. Shame is not the natural human state…it is an entrained way of perceiving self, which means that is pliable and can be shifted.

In some ways, this shame we place upon ourselves is a kind of narcissism and a natural byproduct of a society that emphasizes the individual over the collective. But, in reality, there is no individual without the collective. Human creatures do not develop a sense of self except in relationship to others. There is no “I” until we have a “you” to compare it to. We cannot perceive good unless bad exists, we cannot perceive sweet without a sour.  So, who we believe ourselves to be and how we experience ourselves in the world is based upon the experiences we have with others, within our community and according to our culture. For example, I grew up being attracted to the person, not the gender. My family is liberal and I spent most of my 20s and half of my 30s in San Francisco. Because being bisexual in a liberal family in San Francisco is a very different experience than growing up queer in a conservative midwestern family, I’ve never defined myself primarily by my sexual orientation. My identity is much more strongly rooted in my spirituality and my culture. If you grow up in a culture where you are primarily seen by your sexual orientation, the color of your skin,  or your disability, those categories will usually become dominant in your self-identity.

In a culture that emphasizes individualism and independence, collective experience (culture, poverty, racism, religion, abuse, etc.) and its impact on the individual are deemphasized; the individual must bear the entire responsibility for who they have come to be and any issues they may be struggling with. I’m not saying that we have no choice and bear no individual responsibility; rather, I am saying that we are complex beings and our experiences and culture greatly shape us and the issues we struggle with.

When I am working with clients, they are often astounded and relieved when they are really able to take this in. For example, many women in the USA have body shame. Those of us who are feminists and psychologically aware are not exempt from this because we grew up in the same body-shaming culture and continue to live within a culture that emphasizes thinness and sends the repeated message that if you are not a size six or smaller you are “too much” or “not enough.” We then compound our body shame issues with a shame-breeding, individualistic orientation that says, “I should know better.” And, while we may know better intellectually, every one of us has the experience of knowing something intellectually, yet being unable to shift a thought process, behavior or way of being.

We can be comforted when we begin to understand that it is not “my” body shame I struggle with, it is “ours.”  It is not “my” depression; it is “ours.” Our issues are collective. We don’t need to buy into the individualistic cultural belief that “I suck because X, Y, or Z.” It is estimated that about 121 million people worldwide have some form of depression and about 8 million US Americans have some form of eating disorder. We are all in this mess together. While we can take responsibility for what we do to heal our wounded hearts, we don’t need to carry the burden and shame of the narcissistic and individualistic orientation that we are somehow to blame because we have the issue in the first place. Your problems are not simply yours – they are ours.

May we reconnect to the collective and remember that we are all in this together. May we experience self-compassion and compassion towards all beings.

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

 

 

Oct 162013
 

I’ve been on the planet for a good amount of time now, and have learned quite a bit along the way. And while there is a beauty in accumulating a wad of skills and wisdom, there is also a shadow in that I can get a subtle kind of egotism around such wisdom. For example, when I take a yoga class from a 20 year-old who’s been practicing two years compared to my 25, it’s easy to see their rough edges. This is compounded by the fact that one of my big character traits is a strong impulse to change, improve, and make things more efficient. It’s what has made me a good manager, interior designer, and therapist. The shadow side though, is that to make any improvement one has to first clearly see what’s wrong. Add in the mix that I am a natural leader and have a tendency to run the show. So, a developed awareness of what’s not right with the knowledge that I would likely be able to improve it and a leader type personality…well, it doesn’t naturally lend towards humility.

In my 20s and 30s, I was really working on stepping into my confidence so the idea of humility wasn’t one that was particularly appealing or one that I paid a whole lot of attention to when I would come across it in my spiritual explorations. But now, skirting around the edges of 50, I understand the sacredness of living with a humble perspective. The Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind (Shoshin) has a much stronger impact now that I am a seasoned woman. One cannot be a beginner without a certain amount of humility and willingness to be the student – and not a reluctant student, but a willing and eager student. It means approaching a subject with openness and without preconceived notions, even if you are already knowledgeable on the subject.  As Shunryu Suzuki said in his famous book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”

So, my practice for the last six months or so has been to consciously attempt to hold the position that every single person is my teacher – as an educator and counselor I am not always successful in this endeavor, but I suppose that’s why it’s called a ‘practice’, not a ‘perfection’. Practicing beginner’s mind and holding the role of student to all people means that the 20 year-old yoga teacher, the person who doesn’t graciously let me merge on the highway, my 18 year-old niece, that woman from grad school who I still hold in disdain, my clients…they are all my teachers. As the famous adage goes, “there are no friends or enemies, only teachers.”

I don’t claim to have perfected my humility. I doubt that I ever will. I have, however, softened my ego just a bit…enough to have seen some benefit from the practice. Here’s what I believe to be true.

Benefits of Humility

  1. You will learn both skill and wisdom.
  2. You will become a better teacher to others.
  3. Others will learn more from you because it is much easier to receive from a humble teacher.
  4. More people will be drawn to you. Humble people are emotionally safe people. People like to feel safe.
  5. You will have more authentic connection because to be humble means to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is the cornerstone of depthful connection.
  6. Having more depthful connection, you will begin to find healing through those relationships. The illusion that you are alone, unlovable, not enough, etc. will diminish as you experience the opposite of those illusions through depthful connection.
  7. You will stop having to shore up a fragile ego that needs to perceive itself as better than others. In doing so, you will begin to make peace with your own underlying insecurities.
  8. You will more readily discover the beauty in others. You will see what’s right more frequently than what’s wrong.
  9. Seeing more beauty in others, you will find more beauty in yourself. Your self-critique will diminish.
  10. And ultimately, you will feel better than you could have imagined.

May we all balance our confidence with humility. May we find the good in others and ourselves. May we deeply connect from a place of vulnerability. May we be happy.

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

Oct 032013
 

Love, when it comes to you,

will not do your bidding.

It will not land on the convenient person

because you will it to be so.

Love will not hand to you on a platter

the one that matched your fantasies of

Mr. or Mrs. Right

 

Instead,

love will give to you someone real.

Like a velveteen rabbit,

your beloved may be well-worn,

and arrive with baggage and

complications because love

Big love, solid love, real love

is not simply an emotional state.

Love is the choice,

chosen over and over again

to stay in spite of,

to know with your very cellular structure

that your beloved is worth riding though storms

and navigating the brambles in the unknown territory

together.

 

Real Love

Solid Love

Big Love,

should you open the door,

may not give you what you want

but will read the secret desires of your heart

and give you

exactly what you need.

 

Sabrina Santa Clara, 2013