Nov 142013

Everybody needs a God. Now, if you’re an atheist and that puts you on edge, read on, ‘cause there’s a place for you in here as well. The first thing we need to do in order to understand this phrase is to deconstruct the word God. Having been a born-again Christian in my youth, deconstructing and reclaiming the word God took a good many years. I had to clean out my resentment for a Supreme Being that I no longer believed in. I had to detach the word God from the White, misogynist, old, white-bearded dude I had in my head. I had to understand that God was just a name and could have a million definitions.  And, just like I distinguish my childhood friend Patricia from the Patricia I met in college, so I had to distinguish a Judeo-Christian God, from My God. One of the definitions of the word God is “the principal object of faith.” Now, “everybody needs a God” makes a bit more sense, because most of us have faith in something. That faith may be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Kali, The Virgin Mother, or it might be our deep faith in science or family. So, to say that we all need a God is to say that we all need faith or something bigger than us. As an interfaith spiritual counselor and therapist, I have seen time and time again that when people lack faith, when they don’t have a belief in something bigger, they struggle. Clinical research backs this up as well; people who have faith in something bigger, regardless of religion, do much better on mental health scores of qualities such as happiness and resiliency.

Making a life holy means that we devote ourselves to God, however we define God. It means that we look at what we have the most faith in – be it family, science, or some version of the Greater Something – and we dedicate our lives to that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do the mundane tasks of daily living, but we interpret our tasks of daily living within that context. So if your God is family then you gladly take out the trash because it is in service to your family. We can make the mundane sacred by shifting our awareness of the impact of the mundane on what is most sacred to us. To make a life holy is to understand that our behavior, our tasks, and even the minutia of our lives can be more than mundane –  they can all be offerings on the altar of our faith.

Having defined our God (or Gods) in terms of what we have the most faith in, we can then make choices about how we are spending our time and by asking ourselves, “Is this in service to my God?” Is this in service to the thing that is so important and sacred to me? So, maybe an hour of TV relaxes you and lets you wind down so that you more available to you family, but maybe four hours of TV leaves you less available to your little ones who need Mom or Dad’s attention. Or maybe you bitch about your wife, even though your family is your God.

Making your life holy is much simpler than one would think. We simply need to ask ourselves three questions then take action on our responses.

  1. What do I have the most faith in? (Define your God or Gods)
  2. What do I do now that is in service to my God? (Reframing your behavior as an offering)
  3. What is not in service to my God that I need to let go of?  (Aligning your life with your faith)

Living in accordance with our faith is living a life of personal integrity, which makes us more satisfied and content. And, who doesn’t want to be more content?

May our lives be a sacred offering to that which is holy to us. May we hold the awareness that even the mundane can be sacred. May our actions in thought, deed and word, be an offering to the Greater Something.

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

Nov 072013

Touch is the first sense to develop in utero and often the last sense to leave before death. Of the five major senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste), touch is the only one that we cannot live without. It is so critical to survival and to physical development that vulnerable infants who are deprived touch die.

Richard Renaldi in his “Touching Strangers” project, decided to put two or three strangers together in intimate public poses like hugging or touching a face while looking intimately into another person’s eyes. Not surprisingly, those strangers who touched strangers in an intimate way initially felt pretty awkward. What was surprising though, was that by the end of the 10-15 minute mini photo shoots, most people said they felt a closeness and sense of caring with the stranger they’d been touching. Most participants also reported feeling good.  10-15 minutes of touching – that’s all it took to make an authentic connection with a stranger. It makes me wonder “What kind of world we would live in if we touched more?” I suspect we would have to give up the illusion of separateness. We’d have to face the truth of how really wacked-out our individualistic Western value system is. We’d have to give up the idea of “us versus them.” We’d have to face the truth of our own isolation and how truly hungry we are for connection and physical contact.

In fact, there is a relatively new term floating around called “skin hunger.” Skin hunger is essentially the emotional longing we experience as a result of the loss of touch in society. This no-touch orientation we have is so ingrained that we can’t even see it.  But look at Brett and Kate McKay’s photo history “Bosom Buddies,”  which shows pictures of male friendships in the 1800s and early 1900s and you will be shocked at the familiarity and ease with which heterosexual men make physical contact with one another. Not only have we decreased our comfort with touch over time, we’re also culturally more uptight about touch than most of the planet. US Americans and the English are among the lowest touch cultures in the world. How low? Well, if you take two American friends and count how many times they touch within an hour conversation, you’ll be bored because they’ll only touch twice on average. Observe Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, and you’ll have a hard time keeping track because on average they touch 180 times in an hour-long conversation!

This skin hunger is what motivated Juan Mann to begin the Free Hugs Campaign. Free hugs is a social movement wherein people offer hugs to strangers in public places, usually while holding a sign that says, “Free Hugs.” Juan began this during a difficult time in his life when he was feeling depressed and lonely and noticed that he felt better after some random stranger gave him a hug. The Free Hug movement has crossed the globe into places like Hollywood, Korea, Italy, and Belgium.

If you’re old, disabled, or homeless, you’re even more likely to suffer from skin hunger because these groups are among the least touched in US American society and have been referred to as America’s “untouchables.” But, compared to other parts of the planet, all Americans are “untouchables.” A twenty-second hug releases the bonding hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin. When we’re full up of oxytocin, we’re happier and less anxious so oxcytocin is nature’s antianxiety and antidepressant. Holding babies and any kind of touch really, even petting an animal can release oxytocin. So can looking lovingly in another’s eyes. It’s also released during orgasms in both men and women.

So, if you want to feel better, be happier and less anxious, and if you want to feel more connected to others here’s what you might want to do. Touch the people you love. And what the heck, touch strangers if they’re willing. Pet some animals. Hold babies and children. Touch some old people too, because they really need it. Look in people’s eyes and have a heck of a lot more orgasmic sex. Tell your lover you heard it from a therapist.

May we release the constraints that keep us trapped within our physical isolation. May we lovingly touch and be touched.

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