Holiday Pain and Gratitude

If you’re like most people, there’s probably an element of pain, dread and/or overwhelm as we enter the holiday season. The rush to consume, the pressure to feel joyful, and the expectation of experiencing perfect familial bliss set against a Normal Rockwell backdrop is enough to send any human being under a gray cloud. Add to that being a highly sensitive person that can veer toward anxiety or depression and the recipe for implosions or explosions is laid out on the holiday table alongside the turkey and cranberries.

Holidays, birthdays, and transitions are a set-up for disappointment and pain. Whenever we expect to feel one certain way (i.e. blissful, connected, happy), the other emotions inside clamor for attention until we break down in some form. We simply balk in the face of expectations. And the expectation itself for pure joy is, in a word, ridiculous. Why do we put so … Click here to continue reading...

The Escape Hatch from Anxiety

Life is uncomfortable; there is no escaping that reality. From the time we emerge from the perfect, symbiotic state of the womb and enter the world, we’re confronted with the fact that the external environment doesn’t always meet our needs and our internal state fluctuates from equilibrium to disequilibrium, often a dozen times or more in the course of a single day. I remember when my son was a baby and he was suffering from digestion difficulties. I tried everything in my power to ease his pain – including limiting my diet to three foods – but nothing helped. I clearly recall looking at him one day in his tiny four month old body and thinking, “It’s uncomfortable being in a body and there’s nothing I can do to change that.” It was my first of many motherhood lessons about letting go and realizing that part of our lot as … Click here to continue reading...

Pema Chodron on Tonglen

Once my clients accept that grief, fear, loneliness, and vulnerability are natural and essential feelings inherent to transitions, they often ask, “How can I be with these feelings?” It’s the right question: how to be with difficult feelings instead of trying to avoid, distract or protect against them through staying busy or projecting them onto others. There are several ways to be with feelings. I always encourage my clients to journal. Crying is good. Talking helps when it’s with the right person who won’t try to talk you out of the feelings.

But one of the most effective practices I’ve found to process the strong feelings that arise during transitions is the Buddhist practice of Tonglen. The in-the-moment practice is very simple: breathe is what we normally think of as “not wanted” and breathe out what’s wanted or, as the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says on her site, “When you … Click here to continue reading...