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.

clip sabrina santa clara monkey_tigercubs_10

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.

clip every person teacher

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

Jun 102013

Often in my work with adults, I help them to reclaim some of the characteristics that were lost from childhood, such as the capacity to play with abandon, to be completely engaged in the present moment, to not care what others think of us, to dance because it feels good being unaware of whether or not it looks good, and to have a temper tantrum when it all gets too much. Now, I know that in reality, we have to learn how to not have temper tantrums in a grocery stores – but why can’t we have one in the privacy of our home? Intentional temper tantrums are a great way to get the excess energy out.

Words are like that too. Children don’t have much of a filter when it comes to speaking. They will tell you “I think you’re pretty” one moment and “I hate you!” the next. In our socialization into adulthood, we necessarily learn how to filter, and to set boundaries on our own behavior. The problem is we learn to contain too much of our natural impulses, so we cage in both the harmful and the helpful – we eek out both the “I hate you” and “I love you.” And in that process we limit our pain but also our joy as well as the pain and joy we might elicit in others.

All of us want more joy and less suffering. If you want more joy and more sweet feeling in your life, one path to that is to soften the restraint of your connective and joyful impulses, which actually may be pushed so far underground that you might not even be aware of them. This is part of the practice of mindfulness and embodiment – to come into contact with our sweet impulses and to develop practices that encourage loving impulse.

Today, I encourage you to notice others while looking for the good. Did your husband do something kind and thoughtful? Tell him how much you appreciate it. Tell your wife she’s beautiful, sexy, smart, etc. And let not your words of grace be reserved for your loved ones. Give them liberally out to strangers. Did your server give you great service? Tell him. Does the clerk have a sweet smile? Tell her. Do you like the way someone’s dressed? Share it. Does the stranger in the elevator smell good? Speak it.  Notice with a kind eye because we are all far too often unseen in the world. So, I dare you to practice this for one day. Give out compliments with abandon. Notice the reactions in the receiver and the gift you give when your words of kindness reach the ears and heart of another human being. Notice, too, how you feel inside after a day of giving others the gift of noticing and complimenting. Kindness breeds kindness and love breeds love. When we let our words speak the language of love, we feel the love within our own hearts. So if you want more love, give more love.

May your day be filled with beautiful connections and words of grace and kindness.

clips words dumbledoor

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

Jun 072013

When Lao Tsu says “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving,” he is not saying the good traveler has no plans at all. He is not suggesting the spiritual traveler wander around directionless. All animals are guided by the Earth’s magnetic poles; Hooved animals position themselves by them, birds and salmon migrate by them,  and bats get their sense of direction from them. Animals don’t think about their direction; they don’t plan out each step of their journeys. But, they do have an intrinsic, felt-sense of their own internal compass that guides their movements in the world.

We too have an intrinsic magnetic compass – a knowingness of our own spiritual magnetic poles. When we get out of our heads and into our bodies, when we cultivate silence to hear the still small voice, we do not have to be so rigid about the details. We have a general direction and loose plans that we allow to be subject to influence. Being on the spiritual journey, we understand that the juiciest experiences happen on the side roads. It’s not the perfect hotels that give us the memories that will last a lifetime, it is the homestay with the stranger who rescued us when we got caught in the rain. We are not intent on the future moment of arriving, we understand that every moment is a part of the journey. Every mundane action and interaction are all part of the adventure.

May we soften our rigidness and reenter into the compass of our own BodySpirit. May we live into the understanding that there are no mundane moments. May we travel without fixed plans and with the only intent to stay fully present in each moment.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

clip good traveler no intent

Jun 042013

I have been practicing yoga for about 20 years, some years with more consistency than others. And I have been a yoga teacher for over ten years, again, some years teaching more than others. The way I practice at 48 is very different from how I practiced at 28. At 28, my yoga practice was rooted in a push to be more – be better, learn how to do that next difficult pose, get twistier, be more spiritual and grounded, etc.  So this very Western focus on attaining was interweaved throughout my practice, though I would have denied it at the time. I did not realize then that the push to be more and to be better was just the flip side of an ‘I’m not enough just as I am’ belief system.

This is the paradox of yoga, and spiritual practice in general: When we push to become more – more grounded, more enlightened, a better yogini – we lose the essential something that opens us up to our Bigger Self and add a kind of tightness and drivenness which is contrary to the yielding and surrender necessary in spiritual practice. One of my favorite approaches to yoga is Anusara. In Anusara yoga, the first of the five universal principles of alignment is to open to grace, which is the yield and the surrender that is required to open to the Something Bigger. This is the primary purpose of all yoga practice, to open our awareness to our connection to the Something Bigger which both resides within us and is us, of which we are and are a part of.

So for those of us who practice yoga, be it on or off the mat, my metta (loving-kindness blessing/hope) is:

May we open to grace. May we relinquish the mistaken belief that we are not enough as we are right in this moment. May we recognize the divinity in our own being and within all living beings.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

clip yoga self acceptance