Feb 222015
 

It Has Finally Happened to One of Us

It has finally happened to one of us
For a moment, forgettingpeople on path
as she forgets, that
the center point is not the I.
It is happening to her,
we are merely witnesses.

I do not remember the length of this journey
nor do I envision this journey’s end.
I do not allow myself to imagine too thickly
the upcoming changing terrain.
I have heard the stories and studied the brochures,
but never having walked this path
I work to keep my eyes from searching too far ahead
noticing only the bush to the left,
grass to the right, and
the rocky path just a few steps ahead.

It is only one foot stepping in front of the other,
breath supporting each forward motion.

My family,
walking beside me
sometimes grasps and struggles
as I sometimes gasp and stumble
we reach through arms and elbows
raise each other from skin broke open
to once again
one foot stepping in front of the other.

It has finally happened to one of us.
Eyes respond with compassion to the
frightened “I don’t know who you are,”
while the heart drops to pit
and grief becomes the anchor that roots.

In this long journey,
In this one foot in front of the other,
this stumble, rip open, raise again
the I yields to the We as
roots intertwine.
With braided arms,
we bear witness to my mother’s untethering.

© 2015, Sabrina Santa Clara

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

Aug 192013
 

Being a parent for the first time can be a steep learning curve. We don’t quite know how to “do it right,” we lack confidence, we don’t know what our little one’s messages mean, certainly not at the beginning. Being a sort of new parent to my mother is kind of like that. I am learning things like, she has forgotten how to eat a taco or a tostada, or that I must remind her to wipe and flush the toilet and wash her hands after using the restroom. Sometimes I fall short in taking care of her well because I simply don’t know how to.

This week, on the way back from her medical visit, I stopped by an outdoor mall to drop off something for repair. In the Temecula Valley this time of year, temperatures run in the very high 90s. My mother, who uses a walker, was overheated quite quickly. I sat her down outside the mall under the direct sun in the blistering heat while I jogged the 200+ yards to the car anxious for my mother’s discomfort and feeling badly that I had put her in such a position. As I was driving the car back, a UPS driver jumped out of his truck and ran over to where my mother was seated in her walker, then handed her an ice-cold bottle of water which he had opened for her, then quickly ran back to his truck. I pulled up to my mother and got out of the car as he was jumping back in his truck. One hand on my heart, another in a wave, I gave him my silent gratitude. He smiled warmly as he was putting his truck in gear and quickly was off.

I suspect I will remember that small act of kindness forever. He did not judge my ineptitude. He was clearly rushed, but not too rushed to offer a kindness, to care for an elder, to step up where I had fallen short. In spite of being rushed, he noticed, and then he acted. And that, my dear friends, is the true essence of the spiritual warrior.

Having walked a variety of spiritual paths, I have seen so many seekers who confuse the practice for the essence. That is, to orient towards practices like meditation or yoga as if they are the Something Bigger, when they are only practices to help us open and experience the Something Bigger. The purpose of meditation isn’t to be a great meditator, to sit for hours at a time without moving, it is to notice – To be mindful in our daily lives when we are in relationship to others and to our environment, then, to take that noticing and become mindfully engaged, to take action. To do what that UPS man did, because, as Jewel sang so sweetly, “in the end, only kindness matters.”

May we be mindful in our daily interactions. May we be of service to others in need, even in the small ways. May we remember that, when it comes to kindness, there is no small act.

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

Aug 132013
 

Humans need belief systems. They give our world order and structure. It’s not really important what the belief system is, but it is in our nature to need one. That’s just the way human psychology works. My belief system is that everything that comes across my path has the potential to serve my higher good; However, my participation is required for that good to come to fruition.

My move back to California was motivated by a need to be closer to family, and in particular, to help in the care of my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I suspect that as I return to writing, more of my posts will be about this process. In some ways, it is not the Alzheimer’s that is the important thing here. What’s important is my capacity to love, to be mindful, to sit with difficulty, to be of service, and to surrender to the path that is laid out before me.

This is no small thing as I, by nature, am not a caretaker. I am a lover, a helper, and an educator, but not really a caretaker. It’s part of the reason I chose not to have children. But, as a child of a parent with dementia, I have now become a parent to my parent. None of us can fully plan out our lives. We are given what we are given and there are many unexpected stops along the way. It’s been my experience that those unplanned stops are what make my life interesting and/or make me more fully human.

Today I arrived at my mother’s assisted living home to find she’d been crying for the last four hours. My first response, like any good parent, was to feel very protective and hold them accountable for not calling me sooner. Then I set my anger aside to be what my mother needed me to be – soft and loving.

I entered the room and bent to kiss my mother’s blotchy face. I sat next to her, touched her shoulder with one hand and held the other in mine. I looked directly into her bloodshot and watery eyes and said, “tough morning, huh?” Her face collapsed as she nodded, her eyes hooked on mine. I did not look away but sat present with her suffering. “Are you feeling lonely, mom?” She squeaked out a, “yeah.”  “I’m here now” I said, along with some other soothing comments – along with soothing touch. My mother looked at me with such trust and openness in her rawness. I am unburdened by her need for me to make it better. I know that I cannot fix it all, just as a parent cannot fix the emotional state of a five year-old. But, we hold, soothe, and stay present to ride out the storm. I think of all the times my mother has been there for me in the chaos of my childhood and the emotional wreck I call my 20s. I consider myself fortunate that I have the opportunity to help my mother in her long transition out of this world.

When I told my sister about my mother’s crying and loneliness, my sister said, “yeah, but she refuses to do things with others and just stays in her room,” as if my mother has the capacity to make wise choices at this point. I do not judge my sister. I know she is in pain. I know that it is incredibly difficult to see your own mother’s dramatic change from someone who was once so solid, independent, and rarely cried, into someone who cannot even manage her own hygiene – into someone who easily cries. Watching my own mother suffer is truly one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve known. It is also terrifying to think that one day we may follow our mother in her dementia path. Fear, loss, pain and frustration – these are the difficult emotions that come with caring for a loved-one with Alzheimer’s.

We all have our own tolerance capacity. For my sister, the frustration is more tolerable than sitting into the loss and pain, which are simply too big and overwhelming for her. My nature, on the other hand, is to dive deep. And if I am honest, I have far less tolerance for frustration than I do to sitting present with loss and pain. So my path with my mother is different. I bear her pain with her, and hope that in sharing her pain that her suffering will be diminished. Perhaps it will not, but this is what I know how to do, so this is what I offer.

What is it you have to offer? What is it that you carry that may ease the suffering of another being, even if just for a moment?

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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