Coloured portrait

Coloured portrait

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tips on Facing Painful Memories

My tips on facing painful past memories:

(Offered this in a Facebook group to someone who is doing Jordan Peterson's Past Self-Authoring program, where you write down the major events in your past that impacted your life)

1- Process one painful memory "dragon" at a time. If writing one bit was intense, give yourself at least one "sleep" before moving on to the next.

2 - Breathe. It sounds trivial, but when feeling old pain re-emerging, its instinctive to hold your breath in order to not feel. So feel and breathe slowly, deliberately, softening your belly, allowing your breath to descend down into your belly.

3 - Have Kleenex around, feel, and cry. The past hurts are lingering because they haven't been fully processed. The writing brings up the opportunity to process. Feel the emerging pain and welcome it, with full body awareness (emotional pain is body pain, so locate it in your body and stay aware of it). Apply together with 2 - (breathe!)

4- Stay present! The events happened in the past, but the lingering pain is happening now. Once tuned into the pain, avoid analyzing, giving meaning, interpretations or conducting dialogue mentally. Instead, stay in the here (body) and now.

5 - Complete the process! Connect with the pain, feel it, breathe through it, voice it (ouch, uncensored verbal expressions, any words or sounds that need to come out), move with it (make fists, frown, stomp or whatever comes naturally with your body) for as long as the pain is intensifying. When it reaches a peak, let go of it, open fists, soften eyes, tongue, jaw and belly, and take some time to relax your body. This step is an important one, as it completes the process of that particular experience, so it won't have to haunt you anymore.

6- Integration. Give yourself time to integrate. Integration is for emotional processing what digestion is for eating. You don't follow a meal with another meal. Sleep, go for a walk, dance, play, make love, do something pleasurable and creative, and don't talk about your experience for a while.

Success! You can do this, and it's going to be worthwhile your efforts!

Thursday, September 7, 2017


I can't count the times I heard this word exclaimed like an interjection, without an explanation, elaboration or instructions. Several other times I heard people saying that I or someone else had poor boundaries. It sounded like an awful predicament to be in, without a proper instruction or even hint on what to do about it.

Here's what I figured so far: Personal Boundaries, an expression that did not exist in my maternal language when I grew up, refers to the physical and imaginary "lines" a person draws around themselves, to separate and distinguish themselves from the surrounding environment and others. 

Simply, boundaries are what makes you be you and not someone else. 

You have physical boundaries: your skin and your senses. Establishing clear boundaries means that you get to decide and communicate what goes in and out of your mouth, eyes, ears (what you look at, and listen to), who, when and where they touch you or do things with or to your body. Your physical boundaries extend to your property (you get to decide, and should communicate clearly, what happens with your money, car, toothbrush, bra and olive oil. Unless the olive oil belongs to the family, in which case it's a collective boundary and you guys get to defend it agains predators. Boundaries extend to your dependents as well: you get to decide where your child, dog, cat or goldfish sleeps tonight, and any other night, who walks with them (well, not the fish) and where and when. You get the gist.

There are non-physical boundaries too, which are imaginary lines drawn on your preferences, lifestyle choices, activities and conversations you engage in etc. You get to decide what to work, who to befriend, what conversations you participate in, what kind of language or treatment is acceptable for you from others, where do you draw the line in relational agreements. If I ever write the Boundaries! manual, I'll write examples in it. Should I?

As an autonomous human being you are responsible for establishing, communicating and defending your boundaries. As a people please like myself, you have to begin by figuring out who you are and what your boundaries are when you are not trying to please or appease anyone. Tough one, after growing up in an oppressive culture, and practicing being oppressed victim for so long, I am now in the midst of figuring all of this for myself. Who am I, not who I think that others think I should be. 

As a social being, to live and function with one another, I found, it takes two or more autonomous humans with clear and healthy boundaries. You must know who you are before you commune with another, or things get really messy. Don't ask!

Would it be helpful to you to give you specific examples of learned boundaries, from my own experience?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Intentional Living

Intentional living:

Setting an intention before acting is like programming your GPS before driving. Intention gives direction to your behaviour and makes your doing purposeful.

I have been in the habit of expressing intention for my actions for years now, particularly before engaging in signifiant events, and as the start of the day. 

Recently I have begun to clarify intent for more trivial actions that I am taking, as a means of self-inquiry to discover what motivates me, and as a means of aligning more of my actions to a greater purpose for my life, in an integrated, coherent way. 

What I am discovering is at times uncomfortable as I am making myself aware of all the hidden motives behind some of my actions, and some incongruences between my actions and my values. Academically speaking, I am uncovering my own BS!

An example, I am meeting an acquaintance for coffee, and asking myself: Why am I meeting with this person? What am I seeking to achieve by meeting with her? Am I looking for a friend to connect with for mutual support? A teacher to learn from? A client to coach? I may or may not be clear of the answer, and remain open to possibilities, in which case my intention is to explore what is possible and how can meeting this person enrich life for me and her. 

Another example is, I am now learning Comedy Improvisation. On my way to a class I ask myself, what am I seeking to achieve? Why am I taking the class? The answer is: in order to play with others, laugh, express my creativity, make people laugh, cultivate spontaneity and learn relational skills which I can translate to life. By stating this intent to myself, I experience something very different in my comedy improv class than if I were to participate, say, because I want to leave the house out of boredom and can't think of anything better to do.

Insomnia as Body-Awareness Practice

Insomnia is a perfect opportunity for body-awareness practice!

I woke up before dawn and practiced in the sleeping position until my usual waking time at 7:00. 

I began with belly breathing, inhaling and expanding in all directions like a balloon, then exhaling and contracting. The belly breathing is deep, slow, soft and satisfying, which shows me by contrast how shallow my habitual breathing is.

When the belly breathing became more or less automatic, I moved my attention to the muscle tension in various locations, and using the exhale for timing, I relaxed the muscles as best I could. Trauma and stress causes chronic tension (and congestion / inflammation) and relaxing by mere conscious decision is difficult and sometimes not possible for someone who has been traumatized. To be more effective in my relaxation, I play dead: I imagine being dead and having nothing more to fear, nothing more to protect (the greatest fear we have is the fear of death and of pain, so once dead, that ceases to be an issue!). I didn't invent the game; whoever invented the Shavasana (yogic corpse pose) invented it! (Thinking of your shirt, Genevieve Landry Herzog - "I'm only here for the Shavasana")

I managed to relax the lower body relatively easily, and went on with my attention to the upper body: head, neck, shoulders and chest, and Mamma Mia what richness of discoveries waited for me there! Hot head (moi?); tight, hot neck; tight shoulders, chronic frown and eyeball tension, and all this tension seemingly very stubborn and unwilling to go. When I did manage to relax bit by bit, I uncovered what the tension was hiding underneath: pain! Shooting pain down the arms, the kind of pain you feel after a blow. So as I learned from Paul Linden, as well as from my own body, we tense as a strategy to cope with pain, because the more we tense, the less we feel, which is an interesting coping strategy, but obviously not the most useful one in the long run, because tensing up only amplifies the pain and makes it linger.

And no, doctor, I won't take Voltaren, thank you! I won't replace one masking strategy with another one. 

Lying down, eyes closed, still breathing fully and deeply, I allowed my attention to follow the pain and let it linger over the pain's epicentre, which brought up mental images - memories from the past - and certain quality of thoughts. The body remembers everything, regardless of when it happened. I followed the pain with my attention, like following a dance partner, wherever it took me. At some point I felt a sharp pain in my heart area, like being stabbed with a sharp knife. I stayed present with the pain, relaxed into feeling it, in the comfort and safety of this place where I can persuade myself that there is no real threat for me, and that I can allow myself to feel what is.

The pain diminished enough so I could feel a warm glow spreading through my body, accompanied by images of beautiful swirls of fluid colours dancing in my mind's eye.

Living alone is less than ideal in many respects, but when I left a bad marriage behind, I chose to live on my own, without housemates, knowing very well it would take time and quiet space for me to heal. 

And thank goodness for this quiet time alone, and thank goodness for insomnia.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Transmission, Empathy and Power

I woke up laughing.

In my dream, a man tried to jump over a table and landed face down in a plate full of hummus. I looked at the beige paste smeared over the man’s mouth and face and exclaimed: This is the most original way to eat hummus that I’ve ever seen! And then I laughed, and laughed, and woke up. The night before, prior to falling asleep, I was watching YouTube episodes of the comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyway”, and laughing out loud.

For a few weeks now I had been watching Jordan Peterson on YouTube, playing back-to-back recordings of his university lectures and his home office musings. Jordan Peterson, the recent social media star, is the psychology professor at the University of Toronto whose controversial views have made his videos viral. I found many of his life counselling pieces to be useful and applicable in my own life, including moving me out of procrastination, getting me to clear, declutter and update my living environment, and urging me to write down emotional memories and future plans. 

During the weeks that I have listened to Jordan Peterson’s talks daily until late at night, I also noticed something else: I watched my mood going down considerably, having bad dreams at night, and waking up tired and unhappy. I have PTSD and it’s tempting to attribute such low mood to the memory of past traumatization. But I became curious, and I paid attention not only to the content of Peterson’s talks, but also how I felt while watching and hearing him during his talks, and I noticed a knot in my throat, a frown on my face, and tension in my eyes. I hunched a bit forward, which is a tendency I have since using mobile devices, just like Jordan Peterson hunches a bit forward, his head and eyes pointing downwards. And something in his voice caused my throat to tighten up in a knot. 

In our communication, we transmit whatever verbal message we intend through our speech, but we also transmit specific qualities through our bodies. In my experience as a Reiki healer and teacher, humans transmit subtle qualities that imprint on each other, intentionally, for useful purposes, such as within the Reiki attunement ceremonies, or other types of spiritual, yogic and shamanic ceremonies, or unintentionally. That subtle “something” being transmitted is usually referred to as “energy”.

We influence each other not only with reasonable, logical verbal argument: we influence each other with the subtle transmission of our energy, through our bodies - stance, gestures, touch, look, voice, and maybe more, through our mostly invisible but perceptible glow. 

When you are a sensitive empath, like I am, you feel and distinguish such influences that we have on each other, and you can seek to cultivate a useful transmission in yourself, and open up to the positive influence of others. You also realize the importance of self-regulating your empathy and closing it down in the face of harmful influencers - a skill I am still working at cultivating.

When I lived with a man whose transmission was radically different than mine in intention and quality, I became curious to uncover the determining factors of influence: who will influence whom in a relationship, and who will mimic whom?

My question was answered with the help of my teacher, mentor and friend Paul Linden, founder of Being In Movement. Paul Linden is a martial artist who has introduced me to the reality or power in interactions. A person in a position of power is more likely to influence others. This is why speakers speak from a high stage and not from the audience. People assume power through physical positioning (up on the stage, the throne, or the soap box), through a socially accepted position (professor, politician, orchestra conductor) and through embodied practices (taking up space, projecting one’s voice). In any given interaction, the person in power will influence others on a lesser position, for better or for worse. 

What life advice I would give you (and myself!) based on these findings? Here are some points to consider:

  • Clear your transmission, especially when you are in a position of power! When I teach Reiki, I tell my students that their job is to be as clear a channel for the Reiki energy as possible. No reading bad news, complaining and using intoxicants before working with clients! 

  • Choose your influencers carefully! Pay attention to how you feel around your teachers, therapists, politicians and bread winners (money-making places us in a power position).

  • Don’t go up on the stage when you’re cranky! Change your body-mind state before speaking, leading, performing, teaching or treating others.

  • Regulate your exposure to harmful transmission, especially if you’re a sensitive empath! It’s less Jordan Peterson for me, more Joseph Campbell, Shinzen Young, and definitely good, cheerful (not victim humour sarcasm) comedy before bedtime! 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Vitality - Tools, Obstacles and Signposts

According to the Vitality or Chi / Ki paradigm of thought, Life is a force comparable to a river who is best flowing freely and without obstacles. An imbalance in the Life Force affects its course, slowing it down or speeding it up, creating areas of deficit and areas of excess. 

Healing modalities that focus on balancing the flow of vitality and raising the vital force share the common philosophy that healing is possible from within the organism, provided the presence and free movement of Chi. 

To clarify my own position: I am no scholar or researcher and have no scientific claims to this or any other model. I do not seek to prove a framework true or false, and my concern is never whether a framework or model or method is ‘real’ or not, but whether it is consistently useful to me and those that I interact with, or not. In this light, I have no objective proof or measurements for the existence of Chi, meridians and chakras, and will not go into debates to prove or disprove them.

In my own experience, I have had periods of high vitality and low vitality, and I have observed a consistency of feelings, behaviours and in general inner and outer experiences that seem to correlate with the flow and levels of the life force. I have noticed obstacles in the way of vitality, and effective tools for enabling its flow. I have noticed methods, practices and behaviours which lead to higher vitality and others which lower it and I have developed the practice of looking for ‘sign posts’ to help me navigate on my journey of recovery from trauma and stress to greater well-being, creativity, productivity and happiness. This practice of looking for sign posts has been helping me pick and choose what enlivens me and reduce or discard what diminishes me. 

Not all obstacles and tools are made equal, and some weigh more than others in their impact on health; for example, working at a job you hate is more harmful to you than eating sugar, and leaving a toxic work environment to join a pleasant and nourishing workplace for a meaningful, engaging work, can do more good to you than eating an all-organic diet.

Obstacles to Vitality:

  • Need deprivation - from basic survival needs to higher needs
  • Environmental toxicity - air and surface contaminants
  • Lack and restriction of movement
  • Environmental noise - sound pollution
  • Environmental ugliness - ‘a sore for the eyes’
  • Detrimental use of language
  • Emotional unfinished businesses
  • Poor nutrition
  • Social isolation, especially if you are an extrovert
  • Lack of privacy and solitude if you are an introvert
  • Lack of creative activity if you are creative
  • Ugliness - sensory offensive images, sounds and smells - especially if you are sensitive
  • Lack of caring touch, or inadequate touch
  • Improper breathing - shallow, restricted, rapid
  • Unconscious, harmful day dreaming - imagining worst-case scenarios, mental conflict etc
  • Over-seriousness
  • Lack of purpose and living for oneself alone -especially bad for the heart 

Vitality Enhancers:

  • Meeting needs from basic to advanced, to include healthy pleasure as a guide for fulfillment
  • Consistent and richly varied movement
  • Appropriate nutrition
  • Helpful use of language, including useful poetic language (metaphors, comparisons etc)
  • Consistent exposure to beauty - image, sound, smell, taste, touch, language
  • Playfulness and the use of humour 
  • Practicing conscious awareness to self, others and environment
  • Sexual, sensual and emotional intimacy - with cuddles, caresses, snuggling and lovemaking
  • Healthy breathing habits - slow, deep, full
  • Fulfilling social connections, especially for extroverts
  • Personal retreats - time and space alone, especially for introverts
  • Engaging in creative endeavours
  • Volunteering and contributing meaningfully to community - especially good for the heart

Signposts of Enhanced Vitality:

  • Elevated mood
  • Elevated stamina
  • Increased libido - sexual desire, as well as desire in general
  • Increased motivation and productivity - getting things done
  • Good hair days - shiny, elastic
  • Healthy skin colour, visible on the face
  • Positive self image
  • A sense of ease and flow in daily activities and projects
  • Increased efficiency
  • Increased resilience 
  • A sense of well-being that is independent of conditions
  • Ability to look at and plan for the future
  • Ability to be present with others
  • Decreased frequency and intensity of illness
  • Faster and easier recovery from illness
  • Increased courage

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On loss, destruction and hope - Tisha Be'Av

Making sense of Tisha Be'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year, commemorating and mourning various disasters and losses.

A reading of contemporary written laments last night left me pondering on the greater topic of suffering. Losses and mourning are universal, and so are regrets - all an inevitable experience of humans, possibly more conscious beings. Laments include the listing of the losses, but also a listing of 'sins', and the tone is of despair and hopelessness.

What good can come out of diving deep into the darkness of hellish despair and hopelessness? Perhaps a chance at opening the heart compassionately to all suffering as it arises in ourselves and others?

What good can come out of articulating all the ways our individual and collective behaviour is evil? Perhaps owning our shadow so we can have a choice for conscious behaviour that's rooted in compassion?

Jewish people mourn the falling of the Second Temple - a symbol of divine protection, identity and home. A wandering Jew myself, double immigrant and uprooted from my family and old friends, I can relate to this loss of home, of a sense of security, and the loss of a healthy sense of self. I know hell, I lived it,  despaired and lost hope, and with it, at times, I lost the will to live. Without hope - a glimpse into what's possible - there is no purpose; without purpose, there is no drive to fight and live.

Destruction is the end - but the end of what? The end of a parent-child relationship with the divine, when we are left to die or to grow up and become more? The end of a home that was safe and secure but became confining and alienating, leaving us not only wandering, but adapting, learning, growing, integrating and contributing?

A few years ago I brushed with death. What scared me more than dying, as I was lying on a cold metal hospital table, was the thought that I had nothing I wanted to live for, not looking forward to returning to a home where discord reigned and where I felt displaced.

A moment after, something inside me got me to expand my sense of identity and go beyond the separate self, and the thought that I am somehow both infinite and finite, and that in overcoming my own suffering I could also contribute to alleviating the suffering in the world that I am part of, and at one with, in my own unique way. This thought fuelled the drive and strength I needed to fight for life, and it still fuels the drive and strength for my recovery.

What good can come for us, the Jewish Tribe, with mourning of the fall of the Temple, and with owning our dark Shadows? What kind of growth can we achieve to give us hope in hopelessness and make life worth it?

With loss of hope comes loss of expectations. If all is lost, there's nothing else to lose.

When there is nothing more, or nothing else to loose, what's there to gain?