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 162013

Humans worry. There’s no getting around it. We are biological predisposed to have negative thoughts, images and emotions in order to plan for anticipated potential threats. The problem with worry is that we worry too much. The problem with problems is that we often don’t take them in stride or review them peacefully. Instead, we tend to think ‘worst case scenario’ without coming to solutions – instead, we come up with a scenario that is the ‘bad thing’ and get stuck in the vision of the bad thing. Our foreheads scowl, our muscles tense, our bellies tighten, our joy plummets. Worry, at this level, is not simply a function of planning for possible outcomes, instead, it is both a side-effect and cause of anxiety in a vicious cycle that decreases happiness.

There are 12 practical tools for helping with worry.

  1. Breathe. Breathwork helps to slow things down. Do a body scan and look for tensions. Soften the tensions.
  2. Stay in the present moment. All worry is future or past oriented. Staying in the now is contrary to worry.
  3. Practice positive what ifs. f you’re thinking of all the negative ‘what ifs,’ start thinking of the positive ‘what ifs.’ Thought process like, “what if I lose my job and then I can’t find another and I can’t make mortgage and lose my house” can be given reality checks of all possible outcomes. “What if I don’t lose my job and everything goes on as it always does.” or “What if I lose my job and that forces me to look for work that I really love. What if I find a job and make even more money than I do now. What if that allows me to save up some money so that I know when hard times hit I have a safety net.”
  4. Give yourself reality checks. For example, if you’ve never been homeless, remind yourself that your fears of homelessness are likely unfounded. If you have been, then remind yourself that you survived that so likely you’ll survive it again.
  5. Meditate. Anxiety-based worries make the mind circulate and perseverate, the solution then, is stillness for the mind. Meditation is one form of finding stillness, though seated meditation isn’t always my first suggestion for people who worry. Anything that takes you into ‘the zone’ can do that. It might be crossword puzzles, making jewelry or art, or gardening.
  6. Get in your body. Anxiety-based worries take us out of our physical experience while increasing our physical tension. Relocating ourselves within our bodies is a great way to get out of our heads. Moving meditation practices like tai chi are great ways to soften the speeding up that tends to arise with anxiety, But vigorous physicality like dancing or biking is also a way to move that anxious energy out of your head and body. Embodiment practices like Authentic Movement, Dance/Movement Therapy and some forms of Yoga are great ways to reconnect with the wisdom of your body.
  7. Find a counselor or therapist. Most of us have some trauma or core beliefs that keep us stuck in anxiety-based worries. A trained professional can help you to heal the wounds that cause anxiety and shift the core beliefs that keep you stuck in a worry cycle.
  8. Slow down and simplify your life. Part of worry comes from the practical reality that our lives are often too big for us. We own too much stuff, have too much debt, and do too many activities. All beings need time to rest and recuperate in order to be sustainable. If your life doesn’t allow you space to rest, something’s gotta go.
  9. Get more loving touch. Loving touch calms down the nervous system. So get more massages if you can. And touch your loved ones more. Studies have shown that those who are touching get similar soothing benefits as those who are being touched.
  10. Look for the good and practice gratitude. Gratitude increases joy and happiness and changes our negative disposition into a positive disposition.
  11. Play more. You cannot skip for any length of time and still worry. Try it. Play increases joy, which is like kryptonite to worry.
  12. Practice your faith. Studies show that those who believe in a higher-power and practice their faith do better on mental health scales, including anxiety. So if you believe in a higher-power, hand over your worries to him/her/it/them.

May you be relieved of the suffering of your own anxiety. May you know peace.

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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.

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

Jun 122013

We are biologically predisposed to notice what’s wrong, to look for the negative as a means of preparing for it. It’s an ingrained survival skill which has become overdeveloped. Particularly in the Western culture in which we live. I mean, generally speaking, we’re not being chased by tigers or having to daily defend ourselves from our neighboring tribes. So this overdeveloped skill might help us to prepare for worst case scenarios (which rarely happen), but it also saps our joy and leaves us with an Eeyore kind of disposition.

To soften that overdeveloped skill, the practice is gratitude. We look for what is good even when there is clearly difficulty. This is not to say that we ignore the challenges in life by skirting over them with a fake smile. Faking positivity only makes us feel inauthentic. The job of the person on the spiritual path is to be able to see, experience, and accept all that life has to offer us. Not just the pleasant. But also, not just the unpleasant. So, we practice gratitude to balance out our glass half empty view. When we are in difficult places in our lives, this practice can be particularly challenging.

About 6 years ago I began a series of knee surgeries, six in three years, which eventually culminated in a total knee replacement at 44…an unheard of age for a knee replacement.  During that three-year period I also had an additional surgery on my thumb. Compounding those surgeries was the fact that I am allergic to opiates, so no pain meds for me. This all happened while I was working on my Masters in Dance/Movement Therapy, my best friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer from which she eventually died, and my relationship was heading towards divorce. Part of how I kept a shred of sanity was through gratitude practice. There are two main types of gratitude practices. Positive Gratitude Practice & Negative Gratitude Practice.

In Positive Gratitude Practice we name the good at any given moment such as, “I am grateful I have family who love me. I am grateful I have enough resources for healthy food,” and so on. Negative Gratitude Practices are particularly useful when one is going through a challenging time and is having a hard time finding the positive. So we have gratitude for what is not happening to remind us that there is always a worse story, which keeps our own experience in perspective. While I was going through the knee surgery years one of my negative gratitude phrases was, “I don’t have cancer, I’m not in a wheelchair, and I don’t have a poop bag.”  That put my suffering into perspective. Negative gratitudes can also be used as a source of humor, which lightens up the ‘taking ourselves too seriously’ disposition, and can be fun ways to teach children gratitude. “I’m grateful that I don’t have 15 hairy facial moles. I’m grateful I don’t have a tail.”

Try it for a week. Attach it to a practice you already have like eating, driving, washing dishes, etc. One week, several times a day, and just notice if your sense of joy doesn’t increase.

May you find gratitude for your life. May your joy be full.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 092013

The phrase “Don’t Take Life Too Seriously. Nobody Get’s Out Alive Anyway’ is a funny little adage that really speaks to an important practical and spiritual lesson. I think the best Spiritual lessons are also practical, which is part of the reason why I love a lot of the Buddhist practices. Reincarnation – don’t care much about the philosophy. It’s just a belief and unprovable, and you know what they say about beliefs, opinions and other parts of the human anatomy – we’ve all got one. So what. On the other hand, mindfulness practices, tonglen, and maitri are all beautifully helpful Buddhist practices which can actually improve your restfulness and enjoyment of life.

Pema Chodron, an well-known Buddhist teacher, often talks about “not making such a big deal” of this issue or that issue, which is really what the ‘don’t take life too seriously’ quote really is saying. Which seems like a contradiction for those of us who are focused on living a spiritual life, because to be on a spiritual path means that we are in a continual state of self-reflection. And it is through this process of becoming more self-aware that we become intimately familiar with our faults and foibles. And yet, that self-awareness is also a kind of narcissism. So the paradox of spiritual practice is that we become self-aware so that we can eventually arrive at the experience of ‘no-self,’ which for me means, my sense of self expands so greatly that I enter into an awareness of my connection to the all of it and the “me” becomes a grain in the vastness of the desert sand, a drop in the oceans, a little tiny bit of something so vast that it becomes impossible to hold onto the experience that the world revolves around me and my feelings, thoughts, beliefs, angst, etc.

So, ‘don’t take life too seriously’ is the other side of the self-awareness coin. It’s the, ‘lighten up, dude’ that can sound dismissive, but really has a great amount of wisdom in it. I’ve thought before that if there was an alien race watching us, kind of like we watch cheesy reality shows, they must be incredibly entertained at “those silly little humans,” because we’re really kind of nutty creatures. We hold great wisdom and art and beauty, and we also do things that just don’t make any sense at all. So, part of not taking life too seriously, is accepting that we just are the way we are. We make friends with our faults and foibles, we begin to accept others quirks and nuttiness as just part of our collective nuttiness because we’re not really going to change human nature. And holding onto rigidness and being serious 24/7 just isn’t much fun, and there’s no spirituality rulebook that says having depth means you lose your capacity to be lighthearted and playful.

So, if you catch yourself getting all angsty and narcissistic in your own processing, lighten up. Get into the ‘silly little humans’ mindset. Remember, life is incredibly short and your time here will be gone before you know it. Know when to let it all go, forget about it for a second, and go play. Get a hula hoop, go reggae dancing, watch a comedy and surrender to happiness. Enjoy the ride, my friends.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 082013

Part of the difficulty with humans is that we just don’t know how to be okay with paradox. We have an impulse towards linear, black or white thinking and can’t seem to wrap our heads around  two coexisting and opposite truths. Not sure you believe me? Imagine a kind man who opens doors for others, gives to charity, always remembers the birthdays of everyone at his office and daily inquires about their lives and families, listens intently when his wife talks about her struggles. Now imagine that person is also a pedophile (do remember, though, that not all pedophiles act on their desires). What just happened when you read he was a pedophile? Your mind likely eradicated the kind characteristic traits of the man. When faced with paradox in humans, this is what we typically do in order to make sense of the world we live in – we try to destroy one of the truths that doesn’t fit into our understanding of the world.

Related to that is our incapacity to accept shadow. One of the teachings in Buddhism is that ‘life is suffering.’ The first time I was exposed to this I had such an aversion to it. I remember thinking something along the lines of “wow, that’s depressing. Why on earth would I want to be part of any religion that teaches that?” That was twenty something years ago and I understand the teaching differently now. ‘Life is suffering’ is a truth that we are resistant to believing. Suffering is simply a part of life. Unavoidable. Just as is joy, enigma, tenderness, hatred, goodness, etc.”

Can you be a feminist who likes to be sexually dominated? A meat-eater and animal rights activist? Can you live a life of compassion, and sometimes be a complete bitch? Can I be deeply spiritual, and despise organized religion? Can humans be incredibly tender and sweet, and also intensely cruel and demonic. The world is both mind-blowingly beautiful and disgustingly ugly. A black hole is everything and nothing. We are the universe, and a spec of the universe.

Our inability to rest into paradox is one of the fundamental sources of our own suffering.There is a simple practice I use in order to allow my mind to rest into paradox. I notice my thought or opinion about something or someone (including myself) and then I ask myself “What Is Also True?” Try it on today. You will notice how you unconsciously filter out aspects of the truth that are less comfortable.

Happy paradoxing!

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 062013

There is a universal stream. We know we are  riding the current when things fall into place. We know we are swimming upstream when our effort begins to cost us – when we are tight, rigid, and weary to the bone. When we feel like we’re fighting just to keep our heads above water. This is not to say that if we go with the current, that everything will be easy and effortless. We are still required to use paddle and rudder to avoid bramble and rock. Sometimes the stream is a white water river and keeping in the flow does require effort – but that effort is matched with an excited energy rather than a depleted energy – we’re in the flow, but we’re definitely having the ride of our lives!

Oftentimes, we have belief systems, old ways of being in relationship to others and the world we live in that keep us from relaxing into the current. Our fear and rigidness make us stone-like and hard to keep afloat. Going with the flow requires nothing less than complete surrender. We have a passion, an impulse, but we surrender that to the will of the Something Greater, understanding that we cannot always see the big picture.

I once lived in a house that had a cottonwood tree in the backyard. I would sit on the deck in May when the cottonwood released itself from the tree, barely able to breathe because the air was so thick with its gossamer seeds. I would watch the cotton fluffs ride the air currents, absolutely amazed at the many circular, seemingly erratic currents that existed just above me. Going with the flow doesn’t necessarily mean our current won’t conflict with another person’s current. Like the air currents, there are millions of streams coalescing, colliding, combining in their own larger pattern. All that matters is that we ride our own current, we surrender, we lay down the sword, and pick up the paddle. May you enjoy the ride, friends.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 052013

We’ve all had people who’ve walked away from us. Sometimes the leaving was painful, sometimes a relief, and sometimes, both. How we digest that Outer World experiences  into our Inner World experience can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

The Greater Something, ultimately, always works towards our greater good. Sometimes, it is only through the fire of our painful experiences that the husks of our lesser selves can be burned away so that the beautiful essence of our Deeper Selves may live more fully. This means that if you have a childhood history of abandonment, it is likely that you will have more experiences of abandonment in adulthood. Each time anew that abandonment wound gets reactivated, so that the person who has just walked-away carries the flavor of your mother or father, or whoever it was that created the original injury. Like having a wound that is scabbed over but still festering inside, the new experience removes that scab so that the wound has an opportunity to release the infection underneath.

When people leave us – when we digest that Outer World experience and feel the Inner World experience of ‘I’m not enough’ or ‘something is wrong with me’ or any version of ‘I’m bad’ – we can begin to shift the translation from Outer World to Inner World, reminding ourselves of those people who do love us and know how to stay. We can remember that a person who leaves and who doesn’t hold loyalty as a character trait, might not be the person we want in our lives. Holding compassion towards our own suffering, we become become tender with the part of us that believes that we are somehow unloveable. We can draw upon the Metaphysical World to sustain us – Releasing the ties we have into the person who walked away, handing them back to the Something Greater, while we also reconnecting to the Something Greater ourselves. Remembering that we are born of GodSpirit, we let them choose the fork in the road, and know with certainty, that God always walks our path with us. We are not alone. We are not abandoned, for the Great Spirit is always with us.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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