Every moment offers us the gift of transformation.  We can choose to respond to life by tightening up, hardening, resisting or we can choose to soften, relax into the moment.  The first doesn’t seem like a real choice.  Our bodies naturally tend to tighten when a blow comes at us.  It seems only natural to protect against harmful infiltration.  Softening into the moment feels wrong, silly, stupid. 

Dealing with trauma often seems to me the ideal training ground for personal and spiritual transformation.  We are buffeted by internal and external activation every day.  We have no where to flee to get away from incoming danger,  Our internal world is more akin to a pinball machine than the usual image of a calm, relaxed monastic experience.

One of the people in the SEOC shared this quote from Pema Chodron who writes,  “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us.  We always have this choice.” 

What do  you think?

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I am so excited to bring this to you!!  It’s a magnificent opportunity coming up .  

I have heard from so many of you that you want to know more about “parts.”  I mulled over the best way to do that, got inspired and wrote off a bunch of emails to people who are leaders in the area.  

Here’s the deal:  I’ve already head back from 3 people!  and I only sent out the email yesterday!! I’m waiting to hear from a few others to create a “Tele-summit.”  I wasn’t sure what to call it — basically it will be a series of teleseminars with each person on their particular topic. 

Here’s the people who have already confirmed and will be part of the line-up:

I am incredibly moved by their generous willingness to participate in this – to share their combined wisdom with you all.  I’m still waiting to finalize details of who else will be involved, what the fee for the program will be, and what dates.   My idea would be to have the calls over a period of weeks so you can digest their wisdom along the way.

How does this sound to you?  Is it something that you will be interested in?  Are there any others that you know of that you’d like to hear from and have part of the team?  I’m open to your feedback and considerations.

You know I’ll be keeping you posted.  In the meantime, let me know your thoughts below.  You can be anonymous and still reply! 

What a joy it is to create this for you and with you —


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by NATALIE ANGIER  New York Times / Feb 1, 2010

(Betsy Polatin was kind enough to send this along — Thank you, Betsy!)

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.

As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.

“When we talk about time, we often use spatial metaphors like ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you’ or ‘I’m reflecting back on the past,’ ” said Lynden K. Miles, who conducted the study with his colleagues Louise K. Nind and C. Neil Macrae. “It was pleasing to us that we could take an abstract concept such as time and show that it was manifested in body movements.”

The new study, published in January in the journal Psychological Science, is part of the immensely popular field called embodied cognition, the idea that the brain is not the only part of us with a mind of its own.

“How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body,” said Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam. “We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”

Research in embodied cognition has revealed that the body takes language to heart and can be awfully literal-minded.

You say you’re looking forward to the future? Here, Ma, watch me pitch forward!

You say a person is warm and likable, as opposed to cold and standoffish? In one recent study at Yale, researchers divided 41 college students into two groups and casually asked the members of Group A to hold a cup of hot coffee, those in Group B to hold iced coffee. The students were then ushered into a testing room and asked to evaluate the personality of an imaginary individual based on a packet of information.

Students who had recently been cradling the warm beverage were far likelier to judge the fictitious character as warm and friendly than were those who had held the iced coffee.

Or maybe you are feeling the chill wind of social opprobrium. When researchers at the University of Toronto instructed a group of 65 students to remember a time when they had felt either socially accepted or socially snubbed, those who conjured up memories of a rejection judged the temperature of the room to be an average of five degrees colder than those who had been wrapped in warm and fuzzy thoughts of peer approval.

The body embodies abstractions the best way it knows how: physically. What is moral turpitude, an ethical lapse, but a soiling of one’s character? Time for the Lady Macbeth Handi Wipes. One study showed that participants who were asked to dwell on a personal moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth afterward than were those who had been instructed to recall a good deed they had done.

When confronted with a double entendre, a verbal fork in the road, the body heeds Yogi Berra’s advice, and takes it. In a report published last August in Psychological Science, Dr. Jostmann and his colleagues Daniel Lakens and Thomas W. Schubert explored the degree to which the body conflates weight and importance. They learned, for example, that when students were told that a particular book was vital to the curriculum, they judged the book to be physically heavier than those told the book was ancillary to their studies.

The researchers wanted to know whether the sensation of weightiness might influence people’s judgments more broadly.

In a series of experiments, study participants were asked to answer questionnaires that were attached to a metal clipboard with a compartment on the back capable of holding papers. In some cases the compartments were left empty, and so the clipboard weighed only 1.45 pounds. In other cases the compartments were filled, for a total clipboard package of 2.29 pounds.

Participants stood with either a light or heavy clipboard cradled in their arm, filling out surveys. In one, they were asked to estimate the value of six unfamiliar foreign currencies. In another, students indicated how important they thought it was that a university committee take their opinions into account when deciding on the size of foreign study grants. For a third experiment, participants were asked how satisfied they were with (a) the city of Amsterdam and (b) the mayor of Amsterdam.

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In every study, the results suggested, the clipboard weight had its roundabout say. Students holding the heavier clipboard judged the currencies to be more valuable than did those with the lightweight boards. Participants with weightier clipboards insisted that students be allowed to weigh in on the university’s financial affairs. Those holding the more formidable board even adopted a more rigorous mind-set, and proved more likely to consider the connection between the livability of Amsterdam and the effectiveness of its leader.

As Dr. Jostmann sees it, the readiness of the body to factor physical cues into its deliberations over seemingly unrelated and highly abstract concerns often makes sense. Our specific clipboard savvy notwithstanding, “the issue of how humans view gravity is evolutionarily useful,” he said.

“Something heavy is something you should take care of,” he continued. “Heavy things are not easily pushed around, but they can easily push us around.” They are weighty affairs in every tine of the word.

The cogitating body prefers a hands-on approach, and gesturing has been shown to help children master math.

Among students who have difficulty with equations like 4 + 5 + 3 = __ + 3, for example, performance improves markedly if they are taught the right gestures: grouping together the unique left-side numbers with a two-fingered V, and then pointing the index finger at the blank space on the right.

To learn how to rotate an object mentally, first try a pantomime. “If you encourage kids to do the rotation movement with their hands, that helps them subsequently do it in their heads,” said Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, “whereas watching others do it isn’t enough.”

Yesterday is regrettable, tomorrow still hypothetical. But you can always listen to your body, and seize today with both hands.

Okay.  I’ve been thinking about writing about this for over a week.  I kept wondering why I was resisting.  Was it that I was ashamed to tell you how very human I am?  How much little things can bug me?  Or was it that I didn’t want to deal with what was in front of me?

Probably a little of all of it.

Here’s the situation.  I live in Boston in the city part, not the suburb part, which means that the streets are small, narrow.  We’re lucky that we have some off street parking, as do most of our neighbors.

AARGHH!  I can feel my annoyance even writing about this.  It’s crazy.  Such a little thing that had gotten under my skin.  One of my neighbors consistently parks in front of our house, never in front of hers.  (I know, I know — it’s a really small thing….) but somehow over all these months it has become a territorial thing. 

I feel like my boundary is pushed. Like some spatial separation that is supposed to be there keeps getting violated.   I could go into all kinds of stories and rationalizations I have about it — but I’m not.  I want to transform this situation so it’s irrelevant to me.

The other day I left the house — and yes, her car was there.  She lives across the street but she’s in front of our house, even with her driveway empty.  (I can feel the story taking even more hold in front of me as I write the words.  I keep reinforcing the “charge”, the “energy” around it. 

Anyway, I was leaving the house to have lunch with my colleague and friend, Mike Ward, who is a wonderful therapist if any of you ever need one in Brookline, MA.  We had a wonderful conversation spanning spirituality, psychotherapy models, our personal lives and development.  During the conversation he talked about some annoyance he was in and how he was saying metta  for this person. 

Ah, duh.  Of course, that’s what I should be doing.  Saying metta for this person who “intrudes on my space.”  I resolved to do so.

That was last week.   I did do metta  a couple times but keep falling off the bandwagon. 

Once the pattern gets established, in this case, I now have months of feeling irritated with her — once that gets established it’s a hard habit to break.  I have been watching how immediate the pull is to swim in the ocean of irritation rather than the ocean of love.

Reordering the flow of my energy takes conscious determination.  I have to set the intention to flow love and kindness to her in a global way – and in each of those moments when I walk out the door, or drive home and see her “where she’s not supposed to be….”  You know what I mean. 

This is my practice at the moment.  Day in and day out, metta to her.  Metta to her individually, and metta to all the ways I can get irritated. 

It’s a humble practice, of returning to being present, here, now, connected to my heart.

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I know that feels like a bit of a stretch:  PTSD triggers not making life unbearable for hours and days on end?  Wow.  Could that really be true?

Yes.  Yes, it’s true, it’s possible.  We do not have to feel stuck, helpless in our negative triggered responses. 

We start making the shift when begin to see triggers as messages calling for our attention, not “the truth” about what is happening now.  The nature of  triggers is that they are loaded with a lot of charge, they feel electrified with power, they reach out and grab us.   In an instant our bodies are caught and plugged into terror, horror, anxiety, distress… there are many names for that. 

So, how, I know you are asking, how do we shift this crazy pattern? 

1.  When your reaction is out of proportion to the event in front of you it is almost certain that the reaction you are having is not about the current moment.   Sometimes just naming it helps:  “I’m triggered.  I’m triggered.”   Stay away from the content of the trigger and keep focusing on naming it for what it is — you’re triggered.

2.  What that automatically does – but needs endless repetition – is separate out the trigger from you.  Something is happening to you but you are not that blow apart  or numbed out experience which is exploding in your body.  This provides a slow and steady effect of helping you dis-identify from the symptom:  You are not the anxiety that is coursing through you. 

3.  At this point you can engage with the anxiety/terror/distress/unease and ask it to slow down/give you some room so that you can listen to it.  It’s important not to be doing this in the attempt to fix it, change it, get rid of it!!!  Yes, that might be an ulterior motive, but the more neutral you can stay, the better off you will be.  Having a healthy curiousity will make a world of difference

4.  At this point in the process your body might have slowed do so much and taken such effort and concentration that you might want to take a break!  Understandable.  And that is fine.  This might be exactly where you want to stop. 

Sometimes this is the perfect thing to do – retrain your body and your mind and your nervous system to not be so automatic in response to your triggers.  We can, in fact, learn to harness that energy that gets triggered inside and work with it rather then being dominated by it. 

That’s the goal of the Becoming Safely Embodied Basic Skills Course that will be coming out in the next six months.  If you’re interested in more information click here to put your name on the list and I’ll keep you posted!

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The instructions are always simple in meditation: follow the breath. Breathe in, breathe out. 

How simple it sounds.  And yet after a busy day how hard it is to do.  I realize how much I am trying to breathe rather then letting the breath breathe in and out of me.  It’s a simple distinction yet I always need to shift to allow that to happen.

Perhaps the important word here is “allow.”  To ride the breath I have to get out of the way and follow it.  

We’ll often hear the words, “Take a deep breath.”  When we do that there is an intention, a mechanical action.  I am doing something.  When we follow the breath we are allowing it to show us how it is moving. 

In the first moments when sit to meditate I always go through this transition until there is a softening and my body teaches me how breathing happens.

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A nightmare woke me. I have them rarely at this point in my life (thank goodness.) But this horrid dream was with me, lingering. I felt myself at odds, disrupted, not wanting to sleep, afraid I would reinhabit that world.

Rattled I could think of nothing to do, so I sat and watched the chaos of my mind.

How hard it is at times to find this simple moment. I get completely pulled into all the important contents. I think of Sharon who wrote asking me to blog more frequently and realize with slight panic that I didn’t reply back after asking how she was doing. My heart fills when I think of a client who is in a disastrous situation with colleagues at work, I think of the husband of a couple I work with who is struggling with whether to leave his relationship. Tears flow as I digest their stories, holding their struggle with them, knowing there is nothing to do but to be with them.

My mind begins to unclutter as I allowing each thought, each person, each heart filled moment to pass through. As I acknowledge the presence of each moment I return, softly, finally able to grab hold of the thread of my breath as the moments and experiences of a full life metabolize.

For a fragment of a moment I release the grip of my mind and clarity illuminates so gloriously I struggle to receive it – and it recedes. I am aware, once again, of how my meaning making mind lays yet another filter on this moment, this simple precious moment of being.

This is what I want. Nothing compares to this utterly uncomplicated longing to find what’s there between each to-do, each filled moment of life. This is what I want – to connect with this brilliant emptiness.

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I’m doing a lot of reading and learning as I prepare to bring the Becoming Safely Embodied Skills into an online format.  In the last few years I have been fascinated with the new thinking and research on brain development and neuroplasticity.  Huh?  Basically that means that the brain can change – we can change.

What that means for those with a trauma history prone to patterns of depression, anxiety, fear, terror, distress – it means we can change those patterns.  It is so absolutely important not to get defined by these patterns.  If we do, we’re stuck. 

What’s possible though is to live the life we want to live.  You can change.  The distress you are in can be adjusted and shifted.

Where does this lead?  Practice (smile!)  Yes, the more we practice something new and different the more we are changing and altering our own internal experience. 

That’s why I’m always looking for new ways to reinforce new patterns.  The Safely Embodied Online Community is one way to do that and the new Becoming Safely Embodied Basic Skills Course will do the same.

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It’s in attachment theory that I have found the psychological basis for what I’ve already known professionally.  The last two years I have studied with Daniel Brown, PhD to understand the incredibly rich material of attachment that John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed.

This week I’m at Sue Johnson’s Emotion Focused Therapy for couples, exploring how to support and enliven a satisfying attachment between couples.   I head Sue speak this morning and felt in complete accord.  

I felt my resonance over and over.  Sue told us that she isn’t “Dr. Sue Johnson” she is Sue, or Susie to her clients, and to us.  A person, a couple, doesn’t feel safe to be seen if you aren’t allowing them to see you. 

What a simple idea, allowing us to be people with each other, connected in our humanity while using our unique skills to support the healing of one another.  It’s in that kind of connection that we can feel safe to open our hearts, to explore our distress without shame. 

Since so many of us haven’t had that safe, secure attachment modeling we often don’t know how to do it.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have the longing for it.  That longing is hard wired in us, connecting us to our humanity.  We all long for connection, for safety, for security, for a safe haven. 

Most of us don’t have any idea of how to create that — so we separate from ourselves, have strategies and patterns that we use to deal with our unmet human instincts.  The wealth of understanding that is beginning to flow out of attachment theory is going to bring us ways to repair the connections that were broken — and in doing that provide us with hope, confidence and security.

Now that’s an idea worth being part of.

This morning as I sat intending to focus my mind I found instead the wild elephant of old.  This mind of mine was pushing and pulling completely chaotic and disruptive.  I watched my mind careen down path after path captivated by whatever arising disruption was occurring. 

What happened to my steady breath?  Gone.  I was, yet again, beginning, as if I had never meditated before. 

As I realized my unruly mind I laughed and lightened my own mental heaviness. My trying so hard was making the process harder. 

That allowed for my mind to calm, to harness the wild elephant.  As I felt the rise and fall of each breath I was grateful for the simple call to be present.  To rest in this moment and discover it more fully. 

[What better way to illustrate this communion than with Gregory Colbert’s images from Ashes and Snow exhibition]


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