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.

clip problems dont worry

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

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 032013

When Mary Oliver says, “Someone I loved gave me a box of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift,” she is not suggesting that we not rage against the darkness, that we do not own our suffering, that we stand by and passively say, ‘oh thank you so much for hurting me’, or that we rise above it in one breath. To do so would be what is referred to as a spiritual bypass – the acting like everything is good and fine and sweet, while encapsulating the difficult so that we never have to experience our own shadow…The wanting only the lightness without acknowledging that the other side to light is dark. The bible says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” There are times we should be angry, weep, grieve, feel our vengeance, resentment, rage, or whatever emotional state arises. Our job on this planet is not to become so enlightened that we leave this plane of existence. Our work is to live into the question “how can I become more fully human?” There is no right or wrong, no good or bad in an emotional state. When we make friends with our emotions, when we can sit present with them, eventually, the intensity softens and we sequence through them.  It is the wisdom of Robert Frost stating, “there is no way out but through.”

Note that Mary Oliver says “it took me years to understand this, too, was a gift.” The assumption underneath this statement is that in those years there was a processing of the darkness happening. And, that it was only in the healing and deepening nature of time that she was able to receive the gift of the darkness. This is not to say that she asked for it, or that her loved one’s intent was one of gifting. Rather, that she came to the understanding that it was a gift. We have all been wounded, and most deeply wounded by those we love, for it is those we love who have the greatest access to our vulnerability. At some point, after the grieving and raging have been lived and honored, we then get to make a choice to ask ourselves, “what learning did I or can I receive from this?”  We can languish in our emotional states indefinitely, we can resent and feel ourselves the victim, or we can choose to find the good. There is a dicho (adage) in Spanish that says, “no hay mal que por bien no venga,” which literally translates into, “there is no bad out of which good does not come.”

It is the truth of I would never wish my childhood on anyone, however, because of my childhood suffering I have a huge capacity for compassion. Because I not only survived, but now thrive, I can hold the hope for those who are still suffering from the aftermath of trauma. It is my compassion and healing that allows me to bear the light to others who are still in the caves of darkness. It is the truth of though it was painful, three years of dating and having a series of men emotionally high-tail it, that I was able to work through the next layer of my abandonment issues. Through those experiences, I became thoroughly familiar with my resiliency and stopped turning rejection inward or doubting my worthiness.

We all have been gifted a darkness. None of us, myself included, would willingly choose it. But darkness is as unavoidable as light. So when the darkness arises, we can choose to not be afraid of the dark. To sit present with the dark until the dawn arises. And in the light of a new day, we can choose to leave the darkness, there, in the past, and fully enter into the warmth of a new day and a new way of being.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3
Integrated Spiritual Counseling

clip box of darkness

Jun 022013

We all know what it is like to be ungrounded. To feel out of sorts and out of control of some aspect of our lives or of other people. We all know the suffering of having our emotions throw us into a state of chaos, or to be so shut down and be so separate from others that we are an island of isolation. When Leonard Cohen says, “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be sick every day,” the sickness he is referring to is the ungrounded heart-sickness we experience when the focus of our energy is too internal. When we believe we are the center of the universe – that our suffering, our thoughts, our chaos is The Everything. What Leonard speaks to is the need to expand our awareness. To not confuse one drop in the ocean (i.e., ourselves) with the entire ocean itself. What is called for is a sense of self that includes others as well as the Something Bigger. When we understand that we are not alone in this Great Adventure we call life, when we know our place in the world is simply a small part, we do not have to make such a big deal of our lives. We don’t confuse the drop for the ocean. We belong to a Something Greater – we are one among millions that actually are the Something Greater.

There are many ways to cultivate being the Ocean. We can, in the midst of our internal chaos, look around when we are in public. We can see others around us and remember that they also think the world revolves around them. And yet, here you are together in the soup called life, none of you orchestrating traffic, or your DMV experience, or whatever experience you might be having. Each of us is creating the experience by doing our one part. No one person is creating or orchestrating it. We are simply participants. Drops of the Ocean.

If we are in our own space, then we can imagine others who are also in their own space, imagining the world revolves around them and their thoughts, family, chaos, etc. All of us operating under the illusion that the world is small and revolves around us. Then we remember the world, or humanity as a whole, or the planet , or any other way we choose to conceptualize the Something Bigger. And in becoming the ocean, in the awareness that we are a part of the Something Bigger, the intensity of our suffering softens. We relinquish the illusion that this emotional state we have is such a very big deal, because we are all having emotional states that transition from one moment to the next, like ocean currents, just one part of the larger whole.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3
Integrated Spiritual Counseling

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