Meditation, meditation, meditation. It’s everywhere. Everyone is talking about it. You’ve heard them say how wonderful it is. You want to give it a try, but it seems a little mysterious and “out there” to you; and you don’t know where to begin, or why you even should.
Let’s start with what it is. Meditation could be defined as a process: At first, it is the act of focused attention on a single subject. Eventually (and I do mean eventually), it is merging with the Infinite. You only need to be concerned with the first part, which is the discipline itself.
Before you jump into the discipline, it is important to know why you are doing it. What are the benefits of meditation? Surely they are innumerable, and outcomes can be different for you than your friend who meditates. You are a unique soul that will receive unique benefits from your practice!
There are, however, a few given benefits from a consistent meditation practice:
Does it sound worth it now? Excellent! Next month I’ll walk you through some steps and methods to support your meditation practice. In the meantime, explore some times of day that would work best for your meditation practice. Look into a space in your home that would serve as a spiritual refuge for you. Get ready to commit to your soul!
Spirituality Does Not Mean ‘Easy’
I am guilty of a most false assumption: “Everything in my life will go smoothly since I am on a spiritual journey.”
Isn’t that cute?
What a rude awakening to find out that I’m not always going to get my way from that God that I have always loved and tried to please!
My first clue into this was the drive from Missouri to Florida right after being married. My new husband and I were enjoying the scenery, albeit a little lost. My husband pulled into a gas station to ask for directions (yeah, I got a winner) while I waited in the car. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly filled with jealous thoughts: “What if he finds someone in there more attractive than me? What if he finds her more interesting? What if? What if? What if?!”
I was never jealous with previous boyfriends–not once. My attitude was, “Hey, if you want to date someone else, go right ahead. I don’t need to waste my time.” These thoughts that surfaced during our honeymoon trek came as a disarming and alien surprise.
At the time, I didn’t know what to do with jealousy, and was quite embarrassed and overwhelmed by the emotions. I tried to hide what I was feeling, but didn’t do so well. Fortunately, my husband was kind enough to talk me through my feelings.
…Which would have been great if all I needed to do was talk! I felt better in the moment, but those feelings were only a taste of what was to come. I had a whole slew of faulty childhood beliefs that were surfacing to be healed. This was what my spiritual journey was to be for several years: Clearing false beliefs from my childhood–not just jealousy, but a series of dysfunctional attitudes and concepts about relationships overall.
What the heck? I wanted to be married and live happily ever after! I wanted to ride off into the sunset, live on the beach, and be eternally wise and wonderful! That emotional work was getting in my way of my FUN! How dare it!
I eventually learned that this is the spiritual process, and healing needs showed up in all areas of life: my relationships, career endeavors, and how I perceived myself. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves on the spiritual journey have issues that arise to be healed. This clearing of false beliefs, shedding light on what is real and true (until the next round of clearing!) is what this journey is about! It is simply part of our journey as humans moving into Something Greater.
How disappointing, I have thought–at first and many times since then! Yet, how necessary to be able to move forward unimpeded by my fears and false assumptions. How much stronger my intuition became because of my willingness to do the work. What better life choices I have made because of my willingness to let go of my lesser ideas of “fun” and short-sighted ways of doing things.
The spiritual journey is about clearing away our personal ideas of what is real, valid and important; and open to our intuitive nature that knows what is better for us. Our Higher Self waits for us to loose our little wills and cooperate with the bigger picture that can only be perceived when we tap into it! And we can’t tap into it while we hold fears and wrong ideas about whatever situation is at hand.
The spiritual journey takes diligence, willingness, and spunk. What are you willing to let go of so you can grow?
Sherlock Your Changes!
Change happens. Sometimes we change because we want to; sometimes we change because we have to. When dealing with a change that is out of our control, one of the best approaches is to Sherlock it.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes.
It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
You know Sherlock. He’s the odd, people-challenged character who sure knew how to solve mysteries. Don’t some changes feel like mysteries to you?
Recently, my favorite yogurt brand changed the consistency, flavor and protein content of their product, and I wasn’t happy! I will use this silly example to walk you through the process of moving through a change that is out of your control so you can get a feel for the process. If it can work with yogurt, maybe it will transfer to any bigger change you may be dealing with!
“…[W]hen a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation.”
Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet
1. What is the change that is happening around you? Describe the facts. What exactly is different?
This company changed the protein content of my favorite yogurt went from 15 grams of protein down to 12! Plus, the consistency is more watery, and the flavor tastes watered down as well, but it’s cheaper!
2. Now you get to expand a little. How do you feel about this change? Are you angry, afraid, sad, or frustrated? Let it out, and include why you are feeling the way you do about this change.
I feel really disappointed about this. I counted on those 15 grams of protein in the mornings when I didn’t have time for a larger breakfast. I would eat it at work as well, but now it isn’t satisfying as it was before. I don’t understand why they made these changes, and I feel angry. I feel especially frustrated because the only other comparable yogurt is at a grocery store that is inconveniently located!
3. What about this change is in your control? What about it is out of your control? (Keep to the facts here, too!)
I can control whether or not I continue to purchase this brand of yogurt. I don’t have control over how it is made. I can write an email to the company, voicing my dissatisfaction, but I can’t control whether or not they do anything about my dissatisfaction, either.
4. What would be the best way for you to manage this change? What steps are you willing to take to make the necessary adjustments?
I can consider other options, such as trying a different brand of yogurt, or making the trek to the other grocery store. I can also find other sources of quick proteins for my food intake needs, like protein bars.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four
Now it’s up to you what you decide to do. You can always choose to continue with emotional responses, such as disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness. If that’s the route you take, be sure to also answer this question: “For what good purpose would it serve for me to continue feeling (frustrated, sad, angry, hurt, etc) about this change?” That can be an eye-opener, and can lead to your choosing not to hold on to that reaction any longer than you need to.
“What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Cardboard Box
When you have completed the process and made your adjustments, kick back like Sherlock (or perhaps in your own, healthier way) and feel good about solving the mystery of change.
“Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
Since the transition into the new year, there have been many scientific revelations around the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is focused attention, the observing of sensations and thoughts without getting caught up in them. Often the breath is the focus of mindfulness meditation, and yoga is an example of mindfulness practice.
Meditators and yoga lovers have known the power of focused attention, stillness and breath awareness for a long time—thousands of years, even. Through many recent brain scans studies, science now acknowledges several physiological benefits of taking just five minutes every day to pay attention to the breath:
Convinced like a scientist yet?
So, where to begin? All you need in your busy schedule is five minutes. Try to pick the same time each day so it becomes part of your daily routine. Think of it as necessary as brushing your teeth, except you are “brushing” away stress from your brain!
Sit comfortably. Begin taking normal breaths. Make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm (“belly breathing”) rather than your lungs only (“chest breathing”). Rest your hand above the stomach and below the ribs, which is where your diaphragm is approximately located. As you breathe normally from your diaphragm, you will feel your belly rise as you inhale, and retract as you exhale. Continue for five minutes.
If you find your mind wandering (which you will!) during this time, gently bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice any sensations in your body, but do not let your mind have a conversation about them. Simply bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice sounds around you, but again, don’t let your thoughts go on about them. Let your belly breathing be your primary focus.
Keep a journal of the changes you notice over time. People have told me that their doctors asked them why their blood pressure was lower than their last check up. Others have noticed emotional equilibrium that wasn’t there before they began practicing. Others appreciate the sense of overall peace throughout their day.
What benefits are coming to you through your practice?
"'Mindfulness' Meditation Alters Gene Expression, Study Suggests", The Huffington Post | By Jacqueline Howard Posted: 12/09/2013 7:53 am EST | Updated: 01/19/2014 11:49 pm EST
"The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better", GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9NEUROSCIENCE
"The Power of Concentration", By Maria Konnikova, Published: December 15, 2012
Love Encourages Change
Each new year brings new energy and desire for change! Often when we have something we want to change in ourselves, the first response we have is anger, frustration, rejection. We then try to go about our desired change with a hammer over our heads!
How many of us do well while getting bossed around, criticized and rejected? It might work for a little while—or a long while, if we are super-tolerant—but after a time, we stop trying so hard, or try to get away from the hammer, thus avoiding the task at hand.
We do better at change when we have encouragement, acceptance and a caring eye guiding us in the new behavior.
Who is the best person to do that for you? Maybe you have a supportive friend, or an encouraging therapist. But you are with you all the time! You are the one who will walk with you through all of the ups and downs of life!
Here are a few ways to encourage yourself through any change you want to make:
A little love goes a long way to melt raw materials and create a masterpiece. Take a best friend with you into 2014…YOU! Happy New Year, and happy new YOU!
The Gift of the Seven Steps
Two years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a three part web radio series on Jane Elizabeth Hart's powerful processing tool, Seven Steps for Successful Life Transitions, with Jane Elizabeth and my awesome husband, Gregory Barrette.
Since it is a time of transitioning from one year into the next, I wanted to re-post these audios on the Seven Steps. Releasing the old year is an essential part of making room for a new year of experiences and spiritual growth!
The first interview in the series, called "How to Move into the New Year Empowered", was with author and spiritual teacher Jane Elizabeth. Click here to listen. For more information on her formula for moving through changes, Seven Steps for Successful Life Transitions, and empowering yourself for the new year, click here. While you are there, check out the free spiritual resources available at Center For Enlightenment.
"Every problem in life is here to support your soul's evolution. Unless you have a challenge, you will never know your capabilities. Your problems are not awful. They are the most wonderful tools designed to push you forward!"
My interview was next: "The Gift of the Seven Steps." Listen to the recorded show here: Mentors of New Thought Radio. Below is the description of the program:
"My work with clients is to help pull out the patterns and help make the unconscious conscious," says therapist and spiritual counselor Lynn Barrette, LCSW. "Or, as leading psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel says in his book, Mindsight, “In order for us to become aware of the feelings inside us—to consciously attend to and understand them—we need to link these subcortically created emotional states to our [higher thinking] cortex.” Or, in spiritual terms, making the unconscious conscious! In order for us to heal the buried emotions and the beliefs that are sustaining them, we need to become aware of our hidden patterns that keep us stuck.
"Jane Elizabeth's Seven Steps for Successful Life Transitions is the greatest, most thorough processing tool I have found to uncover and heal unconscious patterns, for myself as well as my clients."
The final show in the series was with Gregory Barrette. Greg spoke about leaving the old year behind and "Making a New Start" in the new year. Here's what he says about this powerful tool: "The Seven Steps method is the single most effective way I know to forgive and release old, past issues and experiences... to fully let go of all that has happened in the past year and open up to a new experience in 201." Listen to to Greg's interview here.
However you use the Seven Steps process, it will help catapult you into new spiritual understanding in many different situations in life. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you!
Sympathy or Empathy?
There is often much confusion about offering sympathy or empathy. What is the difference? Which is appropriate, and when.
When I was at Unity School (now Unity Institute) taking a spiritual counseling class, our teacher, Dr. Robert Brumet, gave an impactful visual demonstration of the difference between sympathy and empathy. He approached one student and said, “Oh, you have a pen! Can I hold it?” The student handed him the pen. “This is a pen? How wonderful! Do you like it? Does it write well? Thanks for sharing with me!” Dr. Brumet then proceeded to walk away from the student—carrying the student’s pen!
“That’s sympathy,” he told us.
Then he walked up to another student and asked to see that student’s pen. He looked at the pen, turned it side to side, nodded understandingly, and handed it back to the student before walking away.
“That is empathy.”
This demonstrated that sympathy is taking on someone else’s problem as our own, carrying it with us, trying to solve it, worrying about it or taking control of it. It can disempower the rightful owner of the problem, taking away the learning opportunity inherent in every challenge.
Dr. Brumet’s demonstration defined empathy as understanding another person’s problem, seeing it for what it is, allowing them to resolve it as they deem necessary, and empowering them through our belief in their own competency.
When my husband and I first began processing together, he taught me the concept of “holding the space”. Holding the space simply means being a compassionate but neutral listener, open to guidance that might support the speaker. Is this not what therapy is in essence? If he shared his process with me, and I walked away with it as my own, how would that help either of us?
In our work towards emotional healing, carrying around another person’s pain adds the pain of one person too many! We have our own work to do! While we can understand and support others, we do not have to solve their problems. What a relief!
Too Spiritual for a Diagnosis?
“I’m too spiritual for a diagnosis. I’m not going to take medication, and besides, what does a diagnosis have to do with spirituality? ”
I have been asked this question frequently, and understandably so. There is still a lot of stigma on mental health issues, not only because of insurance issues, privacy or the fear of being judged as “crazy”; but also among the more spiritually-minded folks who don’t want to identify with the label. Some people feel that having a diagnosis will somehow become a mental block for wholeness.
Ironically, every once in a while, I will hear “I am a [such-and-such number] on the Enneagram”, or “I am a [four letters] on the Myers-Briggs scale” as a reason why they are unable to change who they are or how they manage their lives. But just as these personality-type labels can serve as a self-awareness tool–not a lifetime sentence–a diagnosis can bring light to areas to push a little harder, or surrender a little more, in order to support the evolution of soul awareness.
Spirituality is not the absence of issues—including diagnoses—but the working through them. Instead of seeing a diagnosis by your doctor or therapist as a lifetime sentence, try using it as a tool for understanding those limitations you are here to overcome.
Any diagnosis can show us our strengths and limitations. Our job is to use those measurements to understand ourselves, and move forward where we have been limited, using the strengths that we have accumulated!
For example, if you have anxiety, what tools can you use to support your own peace of mind? If depression is a problem, how can you stretch beyond your comfort zone? Attention deficit issues? What a great opportunity to learn focus and presence! Your solution will be as unique to you as the challenges that you are dealing with. Get support. You don’t have to do anything alone!
And by all means, if medication will support you best, go for it! It is sad to me when a client won’t allow themselves to benefit from medication, and continues to struggle with a brain make-up that is overwhelming them, in spite of their best efforts! Years ago, I had to get off my judgments and fears regarding Western medicine. It was the Universe telling me, “Let go of your hang-ups, lady! You have to learn to trust Me in whatever way I direct you!”
Be open to your soul’s messages. This will benefit your spiritual development the most. Take the outer signs within you, and ask your inner guidance “How can this benefit my soul growth?”
Don’t be too spiritual for a diagnosis. Be too spiritual to stay stuck.
Decluttering Your Consciousness
Every summer at our house, we go through the entire house, top to bottom, and get rid of things that are no longer necessary to us. The kids go through their toys, papers, dvds, clothing--everything! And we do the same. When we are done, our home is lighter and delightfully decluttered! Then we are better able to tackle the daily clutter more easily.
Did you know we have to declutter our consciousness, too? We certainly do! There are things coming up every day for us to look at, understand, forgive and release! As we do this decluttering, we are lighter on the inside and better able to make choices that are clear and support us.
Here are five tools for your inner de-cluttering that you can use daily, and enjoy the fresh air that peace of mind brings!
1. Meditate. For five minutes a day (at a consistent time and location), observe the thoughts that go through your mind. Don’t push them away, judge them, or feel ashamed; just notice what they are saying to you and let them pass.
2. Journal. Write about the time during the day when you felt frustrated, hurt, sad or angry. What were you feeling and thinking? Get to know your reactions and look for a pattern in them. Writing about your feelings can help you understand when to back off, and when to stand up for yourself.
3. Forgive. Jane Elizabeth Hart’s Seven Steps for Successful Life Transitions is an excellent forgiveness method. Unforgiveness balls you up in body, mind and expression, while forgiveness frees you to experience more overall joy.
4. Use difficult people to learn about your hidden issues. Take that guy at the office that grinds you like fingers down a chalkboard. Get your journal and list all the qualities and behaviors about him that bug you. Ask yourself who this person represents to you. You can learn a lot about what is blocking you from your potential by embracing those you find difficult to be around. Forgive them even if you don’t know what it is that you don’t like. The health benefits of this action alone will be worth your effort.
5. Trust yourself above all others. The best spiritual teachers out there will encourage you to listen to your own inner promptings. As you watch your own thinking and journal out your feelings, you will begin to understand more about who you are. This is a wonderful and scary thing! Trust that your inner wisdom will reveal itself and support you as you work to resolve fear and false beliefs.
Over the years of practicing therapy, as well as doing my own inner work, I have noticed an overlooked problem about judging others: It causes us to keep ourselves in a box.
We have all heard reasons for not to judging others: "Judge not, or you will be judged." "Judging keeps you in negative thinking." "Judging is bad karma."
What have been overlooked are the limitations we put on ourselves when we judge others. When we think toward someone, "You are doing it wrong," or some such variation, we are also setting a guideline for ourselves.
Returning to a personal story I shared in last month's post, before our son was born, I had many judgments of doctors, hospitals, and of all of western medicine's views on childbirth. When my inner guidance came that I would need to have his birth in a hospital rather than at home as we did with our first child, I felt afraid. "Something terrible must be coming", I thought to myself, "or why would God ever want me to do such a horrible thing as to have a baby in a hospital?" I came face to face with the wall of judgments I had built around the medical field.
After nearly 18 months of processing the layers of these judgments (that caused all the fear I was holding), I was able to get to the bottom line: The only thing that mattered was the safety of this soul coming into this world. When that was my goal, I was completely open to whatever way that had to happen.
After our son was born, easily and healthily in the cocoon of the hospital, I could not return to my old way of thinking. I had a new perspective on childbirth: The important thing is safety and the comfort of the one giving birth. Whatever that looks like to the individual is the right and perfect way to do it! Not only did I let every mother on the planet out of a tight and rigid box, I let myself out as well and was able to apply this lesson to other judgments I erroneously held.
We don't always know what the perfect thing is for someone else. But we do know what is right and perfect for ourselves, and sometimes that means doing something we would think someone else shouldn't be doing!
When you catch yourself having an opinion about another person or their actions, ask yourself, "How is this helpful to this person? Am I putting myself in a box by this thought?" We can free ourselves as well as others by checking in on our judgments, and leaving our options open as to what will be the right thing to do in the moment. This reminds me of a poem my husband has shared with me, written by a friend of his:
Cage, bird, liberator--
I am all three!
Think about it, and free yourself!
Lynn Barrette, LCSW Blending psychology with spirituality, I offer tools for forgiveness, acceptance, meditation and relaxation, and positive parenting solutions.