Gently Joyous Lessons

Posted Posted in Spirituality/Religion

I think I’ve mentioned Carrie Triffet before here. Or maybe not? Either way, she’s a badass. If you’re at all interested in the idea of Oneness and what that might look like as a living, breathing spiritual practice today (living on earth in these seemingly separate bodies), then she’s your guide. Start with her first book, Long Time No See. After that, read her second book, The Enlightenment Project. (And after that, read Gary Renard’s books, for what it’s worth. And then it’s time for the beast, A Course In Miracles). This is very powerful stuff. And specific and practical. And she’s hilarious. Hallelujah!

I finished The Enlightenment Project not too long ago, and instead of an Afterword (a Foreword, but at the end for those not in the know), there’s an Afterchat. It’s a conversation between Carrie and her friend Nouk Sanchez, a long time Course teacher (which is a Oneness teaching). In this Afterchat, each mentions how at some painful point in the past, she made a very firm decision that she would no longer need painful lessons to grow spiritually. As best she could, she would choose to learn her lessons when times were good, before the stuff hit the fan.

Many humans, perhaps most, have noticed that we tend to grow the most from the worst things that happen to us. When we do it in this way, and it’s not really a conscious thing I don’t think, life ends up having these awful periods from which we grow. These women got conscious about it and basically declared, “I’m sick of this roller coaster. My intention now is to learn all the time and have my eyes and ears open all the time so that these catastrophes are no longer necessary.” They used the term “gently joyous lessons.” I like that, and I’ve made the same intention in my own life. If there’s still more roller coaster, that’s fine, and I know what to do when that happens. But my intention is to learn and grow as much as I can 24/7 so it doesn’t take something huge to get my attention. There’s nothing wrong with that way; it’s just more painful. Anyway, I thought I’d share with you the idea of “gently joyous lessons.”

Aside from that, I heartily recommend Carrie’s two books. She’s just so funny, for one thing. A breath of fresh air. Long Time No See describes her spiritual journey, and it gets to Oneness at about the halfway point. She was peeled open by the same book that I was back in late 2006, Disappearance of the Universe by Gary Renard. It’s basically something that makes A Course In Miracles much more understandable. Pretty wild stuff. Some have called the Course the can and Disappearance the can opener. And Carrie’s books are right there too. Such specific, practical exercises for our conflicts, especially with other people. That’s where the real work is done.

Well, that’s all for now. And yes, I know that I told you I’d write a general post about the enneagram, and I will. Sometime. I’m so busy now, and it’s an awesome busy. It’s really been flowing something fierce. In fact, I just submitted my application for licensure (LCSW) a few minutes ago. That means the two-year post-Masters period of working at someone’s counseling practice is almost done and I’ll be able to rent a little office of my own. Woo-hoo! My boss, Karen Adams, LCSW, has been WONDERFUL! I’ve been very lucky there. I’ll have to take the big ass licensure exam and some online CE classes in the next few weeks. And I’m redesigning my counseling website, www.counselingpensacola.com, and making little videos and doing other marketing activities that I wish I’d done a while ago. That’s cool, though.

Speaking of videos, I just learned how to make a decent one this past weekend. My guitar player is a pro video guy, and he felt sorry for me after seeing my first effort. Here’s the second attempt, not perfect but we’re definitely in the game now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtbiKL0YPC8. (Yes, smile more and talk slowly. I will next time.)

So life is busy but good. And I don’t always say it, but it’s such an honor to be able to share this journey with you, both on this blog and on my next one, A Deep Mind, whenever that comes to being. End of the year? Can’t rush that one. Anyway, all the best to you wherever this finds you, and as always, let me know if I can help!

Dude, I Had Anxiety! pt. 2

Posted Posted in My Stories

I wrote the first part of this story here. In it, I described having the whole pounding heart/tight chest thing before a music gig that was different than most of the gigs that I play (video cameras and all eyes on us as opposed to background music at a restaurant or bar). The main point was that you can experience anything in life, such as anxiety, with a clean mind or not. In one case, the voice in your head is freaking out (to some degree, at least), and in the other it is not. That’s the clean way to do it. The mole hill does not become a mountain. And mole hills by themselves are usually not a big deal.

I also mentioned how I like to use an old tool or “technology” called the enneagram to figure out what makes me tick underneath everything on the surface. Why would I feel stressed in a certain situation when another person would not? And why would that person feel stressed in a different situation when I would not? We’re all different, and the enneagram is a way to expose our patterns so we can be aware of them and take the personal totally out of it. Because it’s a pattern that literally hundreds of millions of people have on earth at this very second. And that’s just not very personal if you ask me.

I said I’d write a general post on the enneagram first and then apply it to this story. I’m not an expert on the enneagram by any stretch of the imagination, though, and I’d like a bit more time on that one. It’ll be pretty basic anyway, but I can go at least a bit deeper with some more time. I thought it might me interesting to go ahead with the application to that gig, though, maybe to whet your appetite. As I said in part 1, you can always search “enneagram” on the internet and find plenty of information, as well as free tests to help determine which number you are. And a book that I love is called From Fixation to Freedom: The Enneagram of Liberation by Eli Jaxon-Bear.

The super quick version is that there are nine points, numbered 1-9. They describe nine different “character fixations,” the patterns that hold our ego-selves intact. And the ego self is your body with whatever name it has. It’s what you see in the mirror. Remember that the mystics have always said we’re one, and then the quantum physicists discovered the same thing. I think that was way back in the 1920’s, and it freaked them out. Science is still trying to figure that one out completely. So if we’re really all one when all is said and done, then “ego” just refers to separation. It’s the very deep part of you that really thinks it’s a totally separate being. And this is in disagreement with the mystics throughout time and now modern science. Uh-oh…

Three of the points of the enneagram are physical, three are emotional, and three are mental. Each of those has a core point as well as an introverted version and an extroverted version. I’m clearly mental (heavy on the thinking), and I’m not introverted. That narrows it down to the core mental and the exteriorized version, which are 6 and 7. After looking at each of these, I’m clearly a 7. Take my word for it. Remember, this is a rush job. You can look on your own if you’re interested, or wait for my post on the enneagram. It’ll still be pretty basic, though.

There’s movement among the points, too, and this is where the gig comes in. Each point moves to another point in stress and to a different point in relaxation. In stress, the 7 moves to the 1. And what does that mean? Perfectionistic and critical. Bingo! Readers know that the perfectionist has been a strong pattern of mine since I was born (and thankfully these are all just patterns). So I’m at this gig and the fact is that I’ve practiced and learned my parts, but I don’t really know the material as well as I’d like to. I could’ve used one more practice session in which I called to mind the reality that there would be cameras, everyone silent and listening to our every note, etc. It would be totally different than all of the gigs I routinely play. I hadn’t even thought about this until it was right in my face as we were setting up. That’s when the heart started beating faster along with the thought, “I need to go over a few of those melodies again!”

If I’m under stress and slide to the 1, then that amps up the perfectionist/critical thing. And if I feel like I could use some more practice, but there’s really no time for that, then can you see how it’s a perfect setup for some serious nerves? The enneagram is just a way to explain everything. Sometimes that understanding eases the reaction right away (anxiety, nerves, anger, sadness, etc.), and sometimes it does not. Either way, though, it takes the personal out of it. And in the long run, I think that suffering is at least minimized. So we’re headed in the right direction.

So what did I do? As I said in part 1, I just noticed it! No story, no problem. No excess thinking, no problem. Stay calm and do what you have to do. After all, it’s just a heart beat. There was still some time, so after I made the necessary cheat sheets (posted on the Facebook page for A Clean Mind for those interested in a “behind the scenes” look), I went into the large and luxurious broom closet (it really was big and nice) and went over those melodies. And that’s all I could do. As it turned out, that’s all that was needed anyway. The gig literally went as well as we could’ve hoped for, and the melodies sounded great. Mistakes were minimal, and it’s hard not to have a couple/few mistakes anyway. And usually the audience has no idea.

So that’s the story, folks. The invitation is yours to take a look at the enneagram if you’d like to expose the inner workings that keep your ego intact. Else you can wait for a future post here about it. You have the gist of it already, though, just from reading this. It simply explains why I’m having a bigger reaction than I’d expect. That means there’s nothing wrong with this reaction; it’s just science. And most importantly, it’s just a pattern. And exposing a pattern, turning the lights on and seeing it clearly, is the first step. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice for a gig…

Dude, I Had Anxiety! pt. 1

Posted Posted in My Stories

The wildest thing happened last Thursday night… This generally peaceful therapist blogger guy had anxiety! It was so cool… So what did I do? Exactly what we talk about here at A Clean Mind! Why do something else? I let it be there with no story, no mind chatter. And it took a couple of hours, but it eventually passed. I thought that sharing this experience might be able to illuminate some things for some of you. Here’s the summary, though – we can have anxiety (or whatever else we don’t like) with A Clean Mind or without. I chose with, and it really was no big deal. Now for the story…

I’m a mandolin player and I usually play once or twice a week. I’ve played hundreds of gigs in recent years, so they’re really no big deal. They’ve mostly been in bars and restaurants, though (mostly restaurants now – earlier hours). So it’s background music, and I like it that way. Actually, I love it that way. I get to play awesome music with my friends that people can enjoy while they’re out with their friends. It’s all very relaxed, and everyone wins.

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to play the album release party for an excellent singer songwriter from Pensacola (living in Canada now) named Tanya Gallagher (http://tanyagallagher.com – feel free to buy her album, too – and I don’t get a cut, by the way). The band consisted of Tanya, me, my awesome jazz guitarist Billy Howell, and an exquisite cellist named Ayla Green (by the way, the cello freaking rules!!!). We rehearsed once a week for about 4-6 weeks and learned the entire album, and then we played it straight through at the event.

Now it’s gig time. It’s a couple of hours before the show, and I’m doing some last minute things like making the cheat sheets for me and Billy (which I could’ve done two weeks earlier, or at least the day before, or at least that morning, or at least shortly after lunch – you get the picture). As I’m marking up the set lists with some notes, I notice that my heart is pounding! And there’s a tightness in my chest as well. I didn’t tell anyone – I just noticed it, breathed, and kept doing what I had to do before the show. The clock was ticking. By the way, that’s the moment of truth – when you first notice something you don’t like. That’s when our autopilot minds start to freak out, and it happens in an instant. When you’ve been practicing this stuff for a while, though, that happens less and less. It did not happen at all this time, only because I’ve been practicing. I got tired of freak-out mode years ago, so I sought out some answers and then practiced. No big deal, just practice.

When I had finished the cheat sheets and everything was totally ready, it was time for the opening acts. I was sitting down and my heart was still beating really fast. So I took the time to go into it and practice what I preach. I witnessed this pressure in my chest and relaxed into it. It did not go away, but I didn’t make any problem out of it – none. I simply allowed it to be there. I was curious, though, why it was there. And the obvious hit me – I don’t play gigs like this, ever. There were 150 totally silent people there listening and watching. There were several video cameras as well. And there was audio recording equipment. To repeat, I don’t play gigs like this, ever.

To compound things, Tanya was moving to Vancouver five days later. This was her “farewell Pensacola” show, and it was quite the love fest. Anyone who knows her knows that she’s a very good, kind, awesome person to the core, and this is revealed by her many friends. There were lots of eyes watching. What’s more, at this particular gig, I had a pretty prominent role. She was front and center and I was standing to her right, just a few feet away. The other two musicians were seated to the sides of us, since they play sitting down. It was the perfect storm for me to have a pounding heart.

After all was said and done, the gig went really, really well. We were as pleased as we could’ve been, and we really enjoyed working together, too. And the anxiety was gone sometime after we started playing. It’s pretty much the same thing as being nervous before speaking in public. I love public speaking, and this feeling is a normal pattern for me that goes away after I get started. No problem.

My point here is that we can make a big deal about this kind of thing or not. We can let our mind tell stories about it or not. These are choices that many people don’t know they have, because the world we live in totally makes a big deal about this and tells stories about it. The fact is that there was nothing wrong. There was no problem. And there certainly was not any kind of mental disorder requiring medication.

I’ll post some videos on the Facebook page for A Clean Mind… if they turn out well! I think they will. And I posted a pic of the infamous set list/cheat sheet if you’re interested. I really enjoyed playing Tanya’s music. In the meantime, though, we’re going to do something cool. We’re going to take a deeper look at why Ashley might’ve had a strong reaction before the show, while someone else might not have. We’re all different, after all. And yes, that was third person. It works.

We’re going to use something called the enneagram, which I might’ve mentioned before or not. I’ve been planning on writing about the enneagram, so this is a great way to do it. It’s an old tool that we can use to identify our core patterns and then bust ourselves. Because it’s just a pattern! So next will be a general post on the enneagram, and after that will be part two of this post so you can see it in action.

If you’re curious and have some free time, you can search “enneagram” on the internet and read about it. There are also various free online tests to try to figure out which number you are. I’m not an expert on this by any means, so I’ll just provide the basics. One book that I like, though, is called From Fixation to Freedom: The Enneagram of Liberation by Eli Jaxon-Bear. It takes it pretty deep, and I like deep. He’s a spiritual teacher who believes that who you really are is eternal, immortal, changeless, already perfect spirit, though. So if you’re not down with that, then maybe stick with something else. He might mention reincarnation as well. Even if you’re not down with that, though, what he writes about each of the nine points, or character fixations, is pretty powerful. I’d say anyone could benefit. Now I have some more writing to do…

Are You Too Hard On Yourself?

Posted Posted in Client/Friend Stories, Other Cool Topics

I had a client earlier this summer who came in for relief from some pretty major social anxiety. He couldn’t live this way anymore; something had to give. He gave me some background info on how this shows up in his life, when it started, etc. And I gave him my standard first session information on feeling and thinking. Then it was time to dive inside and do some releasing.

We both closed our eyes, breathed, and then I directed his attention to some of the triggers and issues he had told me about earlier, things in his life that were sources of anxiety and stress. As I brought his attention to each of these issues, he did a great job of noticing what arose in his body and just witnessing it. And these feelings of pressure would basically evaporate and then we would move on to the next thing, with his eyes closed the whole time (it’s generally deeper and more powerful that way).

We were on maybe the third issue he had mentioned, and he was breathing and releasing the feelings he was carrying, when all of a sudden the floodgates opened. He started sobbing deeply and his head collapsed into his hands. My job at this point was to simply have him be present with these feelings and not dive into a story and a bunch of thinking. Just breathe and witness these feelings so they can move on out of his system. And they did, as they tend to do when we simply let them…

Let me note that I was elated the second that this happened. It’s not because I’m evil and like making people suffer. On the contrary, I know that he’s been suffering enough. He’s been carrying around this trash for years, and there’s tremendous, constant suffering in that. It could even be the cause of his anxiety. And now a good chunk of it was gone. In minutes, he was free from of a large amount of it, and he knew the prescription for getting rid of the rest on the spot whenever it arose. Teach a person to fish…

So I directed him to gently witness these feelings and let go of them, and I assured him that there was nothing at all wrong with this emotional reaction. It was simply feelings coming to the surface, and he would be much better off for it. After a very short while, his body had calmed down and we were done releasing for the time being. Now that all of those feelings had been felt and were gone, we could move on to the thinking part. Remember that we always get the feelings moving first, since they cloud our thinking. After that, we have more clarity with which to process things.

So I asked him what caused such a large emotional reaction. He said that he realized he’s been too hard on himself. Way too hard. YES! What a great thing to become aware of! Being too hard on ourselves is a very effective and convenient way to live in pain and stay stuck. It’s all too common, too. Plus, it’s irrational and optional. The simple fact is that most of us treat others with much more leniency and forgiveness than we treat ourselves. Why do they get the better treatment? We treat them fairly and we treat ourselves unfairly. That makes absolutely no sense if you stop and really think about it.

The good news is that it’s just a pattern, although it’s an old, sticky one. We often say “bust yourself” here at A Clean Mind. Bust yourself when you’re being too hard on yourself, and then drop it like the bad habit that it is. Gently drop it on the spot. And breathe. And let go. If you’re not ready to drop it on the spot, then that’s fine. You just have some investigating to do. Ask yourself very clearly whether or not you’re being too hard on yourself, whether you’re engaging in this pattern. If you are, then gently tell yourself, “This is only that pattern. I was being too hard on myself.” And then breathe and let it go. And maybe smile with the relief of learning and experiencing that you don’t have to keep living that way. Each time you do this, it weakens the pattern some. It’s like peeling away layers of an onion; it’s just a big onion. But what else are you going to do?

So if you’ve tended to be too hard on yourself, then you can go forward knowing that this is a pattern and it can be dropped. It just takes practice. The first step is always noticing it. Turn the light on. When you notice a pattern, then you have a choice where there was no choice before. You can continue, or you can stop. And even if you choose to continue, you’ll be awake while you’re doing it. You were asleep before, and this is a huge difference. Even if you keep acting out one of these patterns but you’re awake, it can’t last too much longer. It just can’t. Each time you notice it, a layer gets peeled away. And that’s something to celebrate. Chopping onions can bring tears, and peeling away layers like this can bring tears, too. Tears of joy!

There’s Nothing In The Water

Posted Posted in Client/Friend Stories

I was visiting a college friend in Virginia earlier this summer, and he said there must be something in the water where he lives. Lots of people our age, which is around 40 (don’t tell…), were getting divorced. The form of the breakups varied. Some had cheating, for instance, and some did not. Some looked like “mid-life crises” and some did not. In some cases they were still friends and in others they most definitely were not. The result was the same, though – divorce.

I’d already heard from a friend in New Orleans that the same thing had been happening among his circles there. So my take was that there’s nothing in the water in Virginia or anywhere else, for that matter. This is what happens to a certain percentage of people who are around that age. They grow apart. They change. They’ve been changing and then it hits a critical mass. It gets to be too much. Sometimes this change means they feel they are no longer a match with their partner, and this can be quite painful, especially when the other partner is still perfectly satisfied. It takes two, though, for it to be a match. And this is true even if they recited marriage vows that said “until death do us part.” Maybe the current version of me would never have said that with the current version of you. But the version of me from however many years ago did say that with that past version of you. And I have to deal with that now.

There can be children involved as well as other complications, like circles of friends and assets. Sometimes a decision is made to hook up with someone else, even before the marriage structure has been dissolved. This happens a lot, really. But the truth remains that it’s not working for them anymore. The spark is no longer there, and it doesn’t look like it will return. Or maybe it will and does return. If it doesn’t, though, then there’s no sense pretending it’s still there.

I’m not at all saying to go do whatever you want even if you’re married. I’m not saying any of this is okay or not okay. I’m not saying get divorced or not. I’m just saying that we want to look at the situation as clearly as possible. From my point of view, there’s no right or wrong. There’s just the truth. What’s underneath everything? What’s the cause? If the spark is gone, then we have to admit that and tell the truth. And if the spark is still there and I just royally screwed up, then I have to own that. Maybe you will forgive me and maybe you won’t. Sometimes we’ve both changed, and I have to reevaluate things. I might come to the conclusion that I’m still in love and still in. The damage might be done at that point or not, though, and I have to live with that.

Let’s be honest – it takes a whole lot for two people to be able to live together as roommates for decades, much less in a monogamous relationship. That’s a very, very, very tall order! Just look at the divorce rate. The main reason is that we’re all changing. Some change more than others, of course. But we’re all changing to some degree. Sometimes we drift apart, or one drifts apart from the other. As I said above, that’s pretty painful when you’re the one who’s still fine with things. But we have to be honest with this natural tendency to change as we age. It’s simply a part of life. It’s a fact. A second marriage might end up working out better because the bulk of the change has already happened, and I’ve found someone who is a match for this newer version of me.

Understanding feelings and releasing is HUGE if you’re in these situations or are close to them (i.e. close friends or family are going through it). People express a lot of anger and get downright mean. They feel they’re being attacked and they fight back. Kids and friends can easily get caught in the crossfire. That’s not ideal, and it really is avoidable. It’s not easy, but why not give it a shot? We have to let the emotion pass as much as we can and then make decisions when we’re more clear. We have to really zoom out and go for a setup that’ll be best down the line. We have to see the forest through the trees, as best we can. When we’re driven by our anger, anger that’s totally normal in this situation, then we probably won’t have the best outcome for the future. It’ll come back to bite us somehow. And I’m never saying to be a doormat! Be strong, but be clear also. Be as fair as you can. And if you’re really pissed and trying to just screw over the person, then at least tell the truth to yourself that that’s what you’re doing.

This reminds me of a client whose ex-wife seems to be pretty greedy and is playing hardball with her lawyer. It sounds ridiculous what they’re attempting to do, but the law is a game. It’s a set of rules and not the truth, and some people are really, really good at playing this game. And I respect that, especially as a logical math guy – these people are geniuses. There are some brilliant lawyers out there that get amazing results for their clients. But I hope that this woman is being honest to herself about what she’s doing. I’ve worked with her son as well, and he sees through the whole thing. He’s young, but he can clearly see that she’s not treating Daddy fairly. And this is only one example that came to mind – I’m not just pro-guy because I’m a guy. Trust me – lots of guys are total idiots!

Anyway, this is not fun stuff, but it’s real. We have to tell the truth and try to get all the way to the bottom of what’s going on. We have to go deep. What’s the cause? And don’t beat yourself up! This won’t help. It distorts, and we don’t need distortion. We need clarity. Own it and feel and release any anger at yourself that you might have. And learn from it. Use it as an opportunity to grow as a person. You might see that it was the best thing that ever happened to you, or you might see that there was no avoiding this outcome. The underlying forces were just too strong. We have to get beyond all that emotion, though, since it clouds our judgment. All that we can do is try to handle a very, very tough and painful situation as best we can. We want to be able to look back and be proud of how we handled it. Even if we feel like we screwed up, we have to own it and then try to handle the rest of it in the best way possible. I don’t know what else we can do.