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

Jul 082013
 

In my experience, mindfulness is more important than meditation. Meditation is just one practice to increase mindfulness. It is mindfulness in our mundane, daily lives that provides greater lessons for living well. Yesterday, I rode on the back of a bike for the first time in well over 20 years. It’s quite an experience for someone who’s not used to it. Here are the lessons I was reminded of.

On the back of a bike you are completely exposed. In a car, 40 miles an hour doesn’t feel like you’re going all that fast; on the back of a motorcycle, you feel it. I felt the loss of  the security of a seatbelt. Images of splattering on the pavement filtered through my mind. I breathed slowly through my fear.
Lesson #1: Long slow breaths are they key to softening fear responses and helps me to make sane choices, rather than reactive choices.

Being on a motorcycle requires leaning into the curve. The biologically based impulse is to move away from that which frightens you…and there was no doubt that a part of me was a bit frightened. I had to consciously work to make my body yield into the curve. At some point I realized I had a backrest. Once I leaned into the backrest and followed that, it was much easier to follow the rhythm of the bike.
Lesson #2: Going with the flow is a lot easier when there’s support at your back.

My adrenaline and cortisol were pumping. My impulse was to hang on tightly to the driver. But, clenching made it harder for me to go with the flow. I intentionally softened my grip. Then we hit a bump in the road. I felt ungrounded, adrenaline pumped fast, and my heart raced, that is, until I finally found the right balance.
Lesson #3: Hardly grip, but be prepared to grip hard.

On a bike, you are not an observer to the environment; You are interacting with it. You are not in a box, looking outward at the environment, like watching TV. You are smelling it and tasting it. Your eyes might get dry. Your skin stimulated by wind, heat, and rain. You will smell smog, dampness of rain, manure, or even a lilac bush. The amount of stimulation was, at times, a little overwhelming. But I saw more and experienced much more than I ever would have in a car.
Lesson #4: Living in relationship to your environment will be smellier and more uncomfortable, but much more interesting.

My heart raced. My mind managed my reactions and the stimulation. I was a bit scared. The helmet made me claustrophobic and it was hot inside of it. So was the protective jacket I was wearing – especially when we weren’t going fast. My nose was on overdrive and I understood what it might be like to be a dog with its head out the window. My skin was on hyper-alert. But within 20 minutes, I was navigating the experience like a pro.
Lesson #5: It takes a lot less time to get comfortable with something new than you think it will.

I wanted to share my experience with the driver but we didn’t have microphones or speakers in the helmet. I’d catch myself trying to speak to him and getting no response. It didn’t take me much time to figure out
Lesson #6: When someone can’t hear you, talking is a pointless endeavor.

What lessons are ready for you today? If you are mindful to the minutia of daily life, what deep truth is available to you?

May you be mindful in your daily life and in that mindfulness, may you have a deeper and more interesting experience. May you live your life fully.

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

Jul 032013
 

There is a difference between having been victimized and being a victim. To have been victimized is an event (or events) that happened in a specific period in the past. To be a victim is to take on an identity that affects how we interpret our current world and the interactions within it. Victims:

  • Focus on other people or institutions and how they are being wronged by the person/institution. They do not take responsibility for how their own energy or behavior contributed to the interaction.
  • They take things very personally.
  • When a difficulty happens, they cannot take the difficulty as a stand alone event, but surrender to the belief that “everything bad happens to me.”
  • They seek the negative. They cannot find the good in situations. If they have a fender bender, they will not think, ‘oh thank god it could have been so much worse,” instead, they think things like “I can’t believe this! Why did this happen to me?”
  • They have little equanimity when dealing with life’s inevitable difficulties.
  • They believe they are powerless.
  • They are often defensive.

A victim identity comes from victimization experiences that have not been healed. So, the cure to victim identity is to heal the wound. If some of the characteristics above apply to you, here are some suggestions on how to shift your experience of the world.

  1. Find a therapist, counselor or healer to work through past traumas that are keeping you stuck.
  2. In every difficult interaction, ask yourself, “what was my contribution to this dynamic?”
  3. If you can find none, as often occurs with institution type conflicts, remind yourself that this is not about you personally. It’s just a messed up system.
  4. In fact, balance taking responsibility for your contribution with an awareness that the difficult interaction may not be about you at all. Someone might just be having a bad day.
  5. Make a practice of looking for the good. Search for ways that the world – universe – god – spirit is supporting you. Make a practice of gratitude.
  6. Orient to difficulties as a learning experience.
  7. Start by taking one place where you often feel the victim and make a conscious effort to shift your thinking.
  8. Involve yourself in healing and mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation and self-growth programs.
  9. Read more books related to self-help and mindfulness. Try Byron Katie, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Eckhart Tolle and Thich Nhat Hahn.
  10. Get involved in groups that support healing such as CODA. Find meetup groups that are aimed towards healing.

Getting out of a victim identity is all about getting into your own personal power.

May you be healed from your history of victimization. May you fully claim your power and capacity to have a positive effect on your life. May your own healing inspire the healing in others. May you be at peace.

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

 

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