Finding peace this holiday season

Concerned about the holidays? You’re not alone. Clients are coming in thick and fast with a range of holiday concerns these days. It’s a topic I’ve written extensively on, so here’s a little overview of what I can offer: 

  • Finding Your Holiday Compass helps you plan for a sane time, whatever your situation. How do you want to feel? What do you want to create?
  • Christmas can be a difficult time is a story about a scene I witnessed at a family holiday concert.
  • Tools for challenging family visits offers some beyond-breathing-deeply tips and can easily be adapted for challenging in-law situations and really a whole bunch of stuff… aka a few of my most favourite things to share and explore with clients.

For parents Dr Laura Markham’s post on surviving the holidays is a short but good one.

“The most essential skill for parents, at the holidays and every day? Manage yourself so you can stay calm and loving with your child.” Dr Laura

Dr Laura Markham also sells a workbook for creating the December of your dreams for $9.99.

 

Refinding Peace

I like to remind myself that this time of year can indeed be a time for quiet reflection, meditation and slowing down… enjoying the dark! Here’s a poem that sends me in that direction. 

 

Photo ©ChloëRain Seattle, Washington 2014 Carkeek Park.

THE JOURNEY : IN 

by David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light
fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

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Press release: book on motherhood available for pre-order!

I’m excited, proud and slightly nervous to announce that my first peer-reviewed article will be published soon! 

My article is called “Navigating the Waters of Early Motherhood: Somatic Awareness, Creative Expression, and Being Held”.  It is intended in part to support other new mothers. I share some of the body-centred, creative, and interpersonal practices that I found useful in my first years of being a mother. To illustrate these I offer pieces of my personal experience alongside research and clinical practice. Towards the end I also discuss how as a society we could support new parents more helpfully. 

I’ve oriented the book to mothers because the edited collection is so-defined, though I believe it could be helpful to fathers too. 

The edited collection of articles is called: Everyday World-Making: Towards an Understanding of Affect and Mothering. It is now available for preorder!  

Save 40% off the cover price if you order before October 5th using the coupon code MOTHERS. 

Demeter Press, a feminist publishing house focusing on issues pertaining to mothering, reproduction, sexuality and family, will publish the anthology.

Here is a description of the book from the editors:

This cross-disciplinary collection considers the intersection of affect and mothering, with the aim of expanding both the experiential and theoretical frameworks that guide our understanding of mothering and of theories of affect. It brings together creative, reflective, poetic, and theoretical pieces to question, challenge, and re-conceptualize motherhood through the lens of affect, and affect through the lens of motherhood.

The collection also aims to explore less examined mothering experiences such as failure, disgust, and ambivalence in order to challenge normative paradigms and narratives surrounding mothers and mothering.  The authors in this collection demonstrate the theoretical and practical possibilities opened up by a simultaneous consideration of affect and mothering, thereby broadening our understanding of the complexities and nuances of the always changing experiences of affect and mothering.

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Rebuilding after an affair: resources

Lately a number of new clients have come with issues relating to affairs. Whilst I’m not an expert and certainly don’t advertise my services in this department, it is an important and common enough issue that I want to be able to offer some grounded and helpful initial support to clients.

So I’ve been learning. I write this article since I’ve come across some compelling sources and thought you might be interested!

Resources for dealing with affairs

One of my go-to’s for couples work are John and Julie Gottman. Find out more about their approach to affairs in this Q+A article on infidelity and the aftermath. I appreciate the “Atone, Attune, Attach” model they teach. 

Couples therapist Ester Perel lays her refreshing perspective out in an easy-to-absorb way in her Ted talk.  I don’t know the details of  her approach to healing, but she seems to take an affair as a symptom viewpoint, inviting couples to explore what happened in the relationship before the affair. Her book The State of Affairs seems less of a how to recover than an exploration of the  phenomenon and a look at how a range of couples have recovered, since there is no one answer. 

Another source recommended to me is After the Affair by Janis Abrahms Spring. It is a key book for supporting couples through the aftermath. 

Local and online resources

Preventing an affair 

Prevention is easier than cure holds true with affairs. How do you affair-proof your relationship? Is your relationship at risk? What can you do about it?

A Gottman certified couples therapist Robert Navarra writes this helpful blog Precursors to an Affair: Six Warning Signs, and follows it with this post about the most common track into an affair with research from the Gottman Institute.

“The worse combination of factors increasing risks for infidelity are:

  1. Negative comparisons between the partner and other, idealized people
  2. Consistent turning away from opportunities to connect with the partner
  3. Not acknowledging or talking about  feelings with the partner about the unhappiness.” Navarra

The risks are heightened when “a partner starts disclosing relationship problems to another person and not to their partner, a wall starts to develop with their own partner and a window with the new person gets constructed”. Navarra. 

Dr Shirley Glass’s research showed that the vast majority of affairs are not caused by lust but in fact by an emotional connection after this other “window” has been constructed.

In a healthy relationship “a protective wall surrounds the couple where choices are made to not share any relationship problems with anyone who is not an advocate of the relationship,  in other words, with somebody who could potentially be an alternative to the partner. The secure couple shares a window of transparency allowing them to be open with each other about their problems.” (Navarra)

For more on Gottman’s approach to preventing affairs, try John Gottman’s book What Makes Love Last.

Do leave comments if you have other resources to recommend. We’re all learning!

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Announcing the launch of The Moving Child documentary

On a personal and professional level I’m delighted to tell you about this film, made by my good friend and colleague Hana Kamea Kemble.

My husband, son and I were filmed for the documentary over a number of years, beginning when I was pregnant. My son Theo appears first at 3 days old in the film and the film tracks parts of our journey until he turned 4 years old. Needless to say the film is close to my heart.

At a wider level The Moving Child film is a beautifully made and important documentary about child development.

The film shows in an accessible and engaging way how movement and child development are connected, and what we can do tangibly to support healthy development of the children around us.  

“The Moving Child shows how to nurture healthier and more compassionate people.” RAFFI

From Hana: “As most of you know, I have just completed this film, with my wonderful team of helpers, after seven long years of hard work. This film can help to shape a new generation and support parents, caregivers and educators’ knowledge of the importance of dynamic movement from the get go and throughout childhood. It also sheds light on how kids are getting “stuck” these days in their movement development and what we can all do about it. We have received super positive feedback on the film so far.

We offer best practices in this film, interviews with parents doing things differently and lots of amazing expert voices sharing their wisdom.

Feel free to share with your communities. We hope to share the film with as many families, teachers, therapists as we can find!”

To watch the trailer, or to find out more about best practices, local film screenings and workshops, as well as various options for download and purchase of the full film see The Moving Child.   

[This post is replicated from my July SoulSoil newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter see the “Let’s Get Started” box at the top right of the page.] 

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Why it’s cool to be awkward

Many people come to see me because they feel socially-awkward and don’t enjoy it. They want more connection, they want more confidence, and they want to feel at ease. Who can blame them?

As a therapist I help them see possible places they get stuck. There could be a more fully-fledge social-anxiety which has it’s own story and history. It could be that they over-react to comments from others, perceiving them as criticisms and reacting as such, thus pushing the new acquaintance away. It could be that they have strangely high expectations of what they should be, or what it is to be an interesting person. A view often overly influenced by the seemingly innocent but highly destructive source of social media. It could be they haven’t really individuated yet (to use a Jungian term) from their parents and don’t have much of a sense of themselves.  Everyone’s story is a bit different.

Often, once any stuck places are addresses and the person is functioning more easily, I want to encourage them to celebrate their awkwardness. To relax into it. To start to befriend their style and what they do have to offer, rather than hate it.  Easy to say I know but it’s possible. While it’s a step away from therapy for anxiety, the article Why it’s awesome to be awkward from my favourite Guardian Weekly newspaper caught my eye. The article reviews the new book Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro. 

The article refers to the root of the word awkward which is afgr in Old Norse, meaning “facing the wrong way”, which I find endearing.  It also explores the different kinds of perception we humans can have:

“When non-awkward people walk into a room full of people, they see the big social picture. They intuitively understand the emotional tone in the room or how formally they should act. By comparison, awkward people tend to see social situations in a fragmented way. It’s as if they view the world with a narrow spotlight that means they see some things with intense clarity.”

My understanding is that the book explores how this difference in perception can be of benefit in many situations. Nicely re-framed. 

This difference in perception styles reminds me of a mindfulness exercise from Dan Siegel’s Mindsight book exploring how we can shift our focus. Here’s my version:

  1. Find a quiet place and 5 minutes free.
  2. Sit up straight, bring your focus inside.
  3. Take some deep breaths.
  4. With your eyes open hold a soft blurry focus on the space just in front of your face. Gaze here for a few moments. 
  5. Shift your focus to the middle ground between you and the opposite wall (assuming you’re in a room). Gaze here for a few moments.
  6. Shift again to the space just in front of the wall and repeat.
  7. You can play with moving your focus back and forth.

It makes me wonder if these kind of perception experiments might help broaden the experience of someone who feels awkward socially. I certainly invite clients to try a range of grounding and embodiment practices which help shift their focus and help them feel more centred in stressful situations, so the shifting of focus (quoted above) makes a lot of sense to me.

If you experience social awkwardness and haven’t found the awesome side yet, know that you are not alone in your struggle and that help is at hand. 

Posted in Anxiety, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Society | Leave a comment

The power of play

An unforeseen, recently-acquired hobby of mine is clowning. I’ve attended a few trainings with my now esteemed teacher Helen Donnelly in Toronto. Aside from being a skilled theatrical clown, she is also a therapeutic clown in children’s hospitals which impresses me even more. 

Whooshla practicing (thus without red nose) for the Hamilton Aerial Group cabaret 2017

Due to having perhaps too much courage and too few brains I have also now performed 3 times in Hamilton.

Some of the things I most appreciate about the clowning I’ve done is that:

  • we learn to identify aspects of ourselves and play with them (e.g. my clown plays with being serious – which I am very good at in normal life, but which gets a bit boring and stressful in large quantities).
  • there’s a focus on being authentic and connecting in that authenticity (i.e. if you feel sad as a clown you enlarge the sadness and share it).
  • the clown is coached to be “enough” as she is, even just standing on stage breathing; in fact trying hard is discouraged.
  • clowns are taught to enjoy failures: it is part of the human experience
  • it gives me licence to gently poke at what I find ridiculous about our social norms rather than be angry about it

Clowning and therapy?

It occurs to me that this reflects much of what I facilitate as a therapist too. Whilst there is obviously a difference in the work and a warranted seriousness to the concerns clients are bringing, the willingness to notice, to dive in and to experiment is key, and this is part of play. Without play we don’t arrive somewhere new or different. 

“Play is always a matter of context. It is not what we do, but how we do it. Play cannot be defined, because in play all definitions slither, dance, combine, break apart, and recombine. The mood of play can be impish or supremely solemn … this is the evolutionary value of play–play makes us flexible. By reinterpreting reality and begetting novelty, we keep from becoming rigid (Stephen Nachmanovitch).

I challenge you to invite moments of play in your daily life. What does it even mean to play as an adult?

For now my worlds of therapy and clown are separate, but I see the beginnings of one informing and feeding the other. I foresee some integration of worlds at some point in the future. I would love to offer movement and play-based workshops for example both for children and for adults. Stay tuned. 

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“I remember the place” – a movement practice

I’d like to introduce you to a favourite sanity-inducing movement practice of mine. My acupressure teacher Arnold Porter taught it to me over a decade ago and I’ve been finding healthy perspective through it ever since. I believe it is from the Shin Tai Do tradition. 

While in this video I run through the phrases in succession, it’s often more powerful if you can pause at each one for as long as you like, with eyes closed, taking in the words. Thus it becomes more of a moving meditation. 

You might notice the phrases that hold a charge for you, pointing to something perhaps you long for or find especially difficult. Thus it becomes a kind of inner experiment.

It can become an intention-setting practice broadly, or if you repeat a particular line as a wish or a prayer.  Play with it as it serves you. 

Here are the written instructions. 

Posted in Anxiety, Depression, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Spirit | Leave a comment

The challenge for Millennials

Here is a super interview with Simon Sinek from an episode of Inside Quest about the challenges that Millennials face. These are the folks born roughly 1984-2000. 

I’m interested to hear what the Millennials watching this think. Is this true? Are you a slave to instant gratification? Do you need to learn patience? Are you addicted to social media? Do you want to make an “impact” and think that this should be easy? Do corporations need to value you more? What about relationships – are you any good at love?

Other offerings from Simon:

 

Posted in Addiction, Digital age, Relationships, Society | Leave a comment

5 unusual steps to reduce stress

“Is it normal to be so stressed?” “How do other people reduce stress? … Do they just breathe?!”

These are some questions that stood out to me over the last few weeks since I heard them repeatedly from different clients. To give you a picture, these are healthy women and men, with full-time jobs, who are either single or in healthy relationships. They are living the life they and most others aspire towards, at least on the outside.stress

They were concerned because their level of daily stress was far higher than they imagined it should be, given the “normal-ness” of their lives. They wondered what they were doing “wrong” or if others felt the same but kept it silent. 

Because others in their daily lives aren’t talking about or showing the same kind of stress they feel, they find themselves questioning their own ability to cope. They even doubted their mental wellness and felt more isolated as a result. 

The “new normal” stress level

Many clients complain about the “always on” state they are in. Some of the new normal influences are probably familiar:

  • 24/7 internet access on phones and widgets and an expectation of accessibility
  • Social media’s glamorous or uber-connected or otherwise unrealistic picture of what life could be
  • The sound-bite version of life created by the internet that evades people’s lived experience
  • Little real understanding (or practice) of what creates good emotional and mental health

Unfortunately folks often end up internalising the stress (i.e. “it must be me”), which only worsens self-esteem and a sense of isolation and then actually creates more anxiety and depression. This isn’t helped by the over-prescription of antidepressants and pharmaceuticals generally for diagnoses that I would argue are much more a result of an inherently stressful society/life than underlying mental illness. 

The shadow of productivity

We’re a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. I think of it as an addiction.

I believe we have lost sight of how to lead satisfying human lives that include ritual, community and spirituality. We’ve lost the social structures that make the latter a normal everyday part of life. Our collective mental health is suffering.

I urge us all to build ritual, deeper community connections and spirituality into both our individual lives and into our social lives.

Reduce stress by moving from a human doing to a human being: 5 steps to sanity

1. Create a “Sabbath” one day a week
Put the phones and digital widgets away for a day. Plan time with family or friends, or time in nature. Intentionally slow down. Follow what feels good inside. Remember what Sundays used to be before shops were open 7 days/week and before the Internet took over.

2. Gather friends regularly for a pot-luck
Start building regular connections with people you like. One way is a shared meal on a regular basis. Perhaps involve a few friends and rotate the location. Or a soup share, where one person makes a big batch of soup once a week and the others come to pick up their jar.  

3. Create a self-care evening once a week
Think of it as a mini-Sabbath if that helps. When you want to shift gears after work for instance, consider how you make the transition, i.e change out of work clothes, add music, light a candle, add aromatherapy oils.

Consider making a list of activities you could do, i.e. yin yoga, follow the lead of your body in stretching/moving, a bath, non-doing time just sitting and noticing or listening to music, or find a book to guide you, e.g. the “Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. 

4. Join a community choir or dance group
Research shows singing together gives the quickest sense of connection out of any activity, but do what brings you joy. Just make sure you prioritize it so you do it regularly. 

5. Connect to the big picture
In our “always on” lives we can loose sight of the big picture. We are mortal. Life is short. We will die. Knowing this, how does it change the way you live your life?  

One way of connecting into the divine / the bigger picture is to pray. Another is to give gratitude. Another is to explore the stars and planets. Or do Qi Gong. Or visit your local waterfall. Whatever does it for you. Strengthen your relationship with whatever divine/big picture you can connect with. Join a faith community if that feels good. 

This article is reposted from my SoulSoil newsletter (March 2016). To subscribe click here.

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The way the nightmares disappeared: a story about anger in grief

Anger is a normal part of grief but expressing it can be hard because we tend not to like to feel angry.  Anger can be taboo especially for women, and especially as part of grief. We may recognise it, but often we don’t know what to do with it. Sometimes we can get stuck in grief as a result.

The dream world gives us beautiful creative access to what is struggling to become conscious. That is, anger can be pushed into the unconscious if we’re not okay with it at a base level. The dreams’ rich imaginal world can be used as part of a therapeutic process.dream moon

Here is a story about attending to anger creatively through dreamwork.  This story is taken from my practice, with a client struggling with grief after a friend completed suicide. Names have been changed. 

Joanna had had a rough year: several deaths of (non-immediate) family members, then a month ago the suicide of a close friend.  Then even her cat had been put down the 1st day we met. Until the suicide she’d been managing well enough… some stress and strain on her relationship with her partner, but okay.

After the suicide she said she felt angrier and “not myself”. She said it was harder to deal with the stress. She felt worried that something would now either happen to her boyfriend or her sisters.  

nightmare-photo-by-arthur-tress-dream-collectorIt was our 2nd appointment together when she mentioned the nightmares. She had several a week; they were very intense and graphically violent and always about loosing people. She felt worried about going to sleep. I saw she was visibly disturbed by them as she talked. So with her permission we explored a bit more and I followed my intuition… here’s where it led. 

Grounding, then touching on pain, then grounding

We grounded first – stabilising in the here and now since she was clearly upset having mentioned the nightmares. She felt calmer again.

I invited her to picture the nightmare at a distance, staying connected with herself in her seat. I asked her if she felt okay telling me what happened in the dream. I asked her to keep noticing her level of upset inside as she talked. She recounted a nasty story of angry men attacking her and her boyfriend and slitting his throat. Her distress levels inside were suddenly high. I coached her to let go of the dream and we grounded together again in the here and now. 

Finding a protector

When she was more settled I asked what kind of defense she might need against those scary angry men. I invited her to use her imagination – dream time. She liked the idea of a “bubble protector” that her and her boyfriend could be in. Imaging that she felt stronger inside.

We went through the dream again, but with the bubble. She felt more control. In her imaginal world now the angry men couldn’t get them – they got angrier at first but then lost interest and left the couple alone. 

Becoming the angry part

I normalised the anger that had been showing up in her life, and again in her dream, saying that often these parts represent themselves through the dream world when we can’t deal consciously with them.

I asked her if she’d be up for taking on the role of the angry men in the dream. tunnel3She was. So as she went into it I coached her to feel the sensations of anger inside her body, and as she did, to push with her feet against the floor and the coffee table, and with her arms against the inside of the chair arms (ie pushing outward using the Deltoids and the Latissimus Dorsi – the big muscles involved in pushing/punching). She was able to do that.

I asked if there’s an impulse with her arms and she said she could imagine punching … so I held a padded chair out and invited her (staying tuned in inside) to push or punch it. She bravely pushed through the oddness of this scene and punched for a minute or so and then stopped and started crying. She felt a release, a shift. 

Towards a new beginning

In her imaginal world she was now in a tunnel.tunnel1 She said it felt safe but dark. She looked a bit scared still but calm. I asked what the scene needed – what wanted to happen. She imagined the sun in.  She saw her boyfriend nearby. He was safe. She moved towards him and the sunlight. 

Positive change

I’ve seen Joanna twice since then (over 3 weeks) and she has reported no nightmares. She had a dream instead of going canoeing with her boyfriend and having a good time. She also reported feeling more relaxed with her partner – she felt less reactive and was worrying less about him. 

With thanks to several approaches I draw on in this work: the pendulation practice of Somatic Experiencing (from ground/calm, into a piece of pain, and back to ground), the embodied muscle work of Merete von Brantbjerg, perhaps an appreciation of jungian dream work I picked up from my mother, a Jungian Analyst and likely some Gestault work too. 

Posted in Anger Management, Creativity, Dreams, Grief | Leave a comment