… All I did was give him a look of confident expectation. An infant learning to walk, you know he can learn to walk, but the infant doesn’t know. You give the infant the confident support of your expectation. – Milton Erickson
Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement. – Alfred Adler
Sharing Without Masks
From where are we speaking, sharing, contributing to groups, community, and individual therapy? As James Hillman suggests, we strive to make conscious who is here now rather than what is here now. In every share and every withholding, every judgment, and every insecurity some aspect of the self is moving. After exploring some of the qualities of the authentic voice – both the reasons we refrain or hide it away and the phenomena of healing that accompanies sharing without masks – I reflected on the delicate art that is deeply curious and reflective listening. Are we primarily space holders? Parents? Teachers? Life coaches? Foremost, we are models of safety. When there is room, when a client is honored for what and how they present themselves, this uninterrupted, encouraged, and exploring self finds the experience of being known.
Let the Unique Genius of the Soul Lead the Way
Something we want to encourage this week is to make room for the budding of unique esteem inside of every one of us. Rather than highlight inadequacies, failure, and character defects, let us instead look to the unique genius of the soul to lead the way. We must enter the dream of the dreamer in order to help them look around and find their way. In the simplest terms, we help clients to be within their own process. Indeed, we provide a safe space to have it for what it reveals itself to be to them. One’s treatment plan, for example, may reflect the skill set of another genius altogether. And while the outcome may be the same, the means to such outcomes are as different as the swimmer and the tree climber.
Toward Centers of Strength
As clinicians, we are charged with the task of curious neutrality. Suspended perspectives provide safety in the unknown, room for the voice of the inner parent to emerge, and the chance to discover genius. In other words, what kind of playground do you provide for the exploring and developing child? Does it have swings and monkey bars? Sandboxes or grassy fields? Or maybe trees to climb and waters to swim in? Where does your client go instinctually to nourish, to play, to find themselves? And this, as we know, puts the basis of our efficacy upon how we provoke the unique genius of each of our clients. What is their way towards success? What are their images of success and how do we lead them towards centers of strength to confront a life belonging to them?
Honoring the Undiscovered Genius
We must strive to learn the language of the living soul within our clients. May we honor them for their yet undiscovered genius. May our efforts reflect the respect that each life and will deserve. In this, I believe we have the most to offer to our clients and one another. I hope we continue to strengthen this value in trust that the unique genius of the soul knows what it is doing. We are here to assist in that work both in practical tangible goals and the unique ways the individuals under our care playfully find their way home.
This week’s theme is going to focus on two things. First, we are going to piggyback on our recent “Future Selves” blog and focus on how to create what each of us wants in our future lives. In short, how we create good habits. We want to encourage everyone to take a 21 Day Challenge, which we will be explaining below. Second, we want to focus on how to reach people in a way that is memorable and that will follow them outside of Barn Life’s gates.
We will start by introducing the 21 Day Challenge. They say that that if you do something 21 days in a row, it will become a habit. The originator of the 21 day rule, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, states that it takes a minimum of 21 days to change a behavior. And guess what! There are 21 more days in the month! So what we would like is for everyone to focus on creating a habit that will inevitably help them reach their ideal “future self.” We want to encourage positivity with these habits. We feel that, sometimes, adding a habit is much easier than getting rid of a habit. Therefore, we encourage focusing on adding positive habits as opposed to extinguishing bad habits.
Now for the leaving a lasting impression part. We cannot tell you how many times a client has come up to us and said, “Guess what! I was with my friends the other day and I told them about what we talked about in our session. How you said, “[insert therapeutic quote here]”. Of course, having a client remember something is great, considering there was something that stuck with them. However, when we go back to the session as we remember it, what they remembered is not necessarily what we were trying to focus on. Or what we thought was going to help. This led us to ask ourselves, “What is it that influences what people remember or take away from an experience?”
Although we have not come up with an answer to this question, we do have an idea that ties into feelings. For instance, there could be a great movie that inspires you. For some reason, it makes you feel all good inside. Then when asked, “what was the movie about and what were the main themes?” it may be hard to remember that exactly. However, if the question was “how did the movie make you feel?”, one might be able to answer quickly and passionately. There is something about emotions that locks us into a story, a memory, a point in time that helps leave a lasting impression.
So for this week, we want to encourage a focus on the clients’ experiences during the program. Don’t worry so much about having perfect content for the group. Instead, focus on leaving a lasting impression. Focus on creating emotions, memories, experiences that will last a lifetime. Our hope is that when people ask our clients about Barn Life in the future, they will be able to recall how they felt in the program and have a source of positivity that they share with others.
As we speak, at this very moment, there is someone very close to you whom you will never meet. You might feel this nearness at all times. You may catch the essence of this person as a scent in the wind. Perhaps, if you look hard enough, you may catch the glimmer of this person in the corner of your eye. However, you will never meet this person face to face. You two will forever be the closest of strangers. We are speaking of our future selves.
Our future selves are the grand total of everything we are and are doing in the present moment. And because this person is always one step ahead, it can be very difficult to show them the kindness and respect they deserve. Our futures selves are the friendly farmers who reap the harvests for which we – our present selves – are currently planting seeds. (The seeds here are, of course, are present actions and experiences.) We, therefore, have to be very careful about what we’re planting. If we want our future selves to harvest oranges, we can’t be planting apple seeds.
Kindness and Respect…Or a Field of Garbage?
Even worse, we could be planting garbage. Or we could be planting nothing at all. Our future selves set out for their harvest and find nothing but a barren field. On the other hand, it’s full of garbage – poor choices, regrets, and missed opportunities. Instead of reaping a bountiful harvest, our future selves have become garbage collectors. This is certainly not the way to show them kindness and respect.
This week then, we are going to practice just that. We are going to show our future selves the love and respect that they deserve. And how will we be doing that? We start small. We build a daily routine. Maybe we decide to take twenty minutes every morning to sit and meditate. Maybe we decide to take tai chi class seriously instead of screwing around the way we usually do. Or perhaps, we start hitting the gym a few times a week. It’s these small decisions and actions that are what creates momentum. This momentum makes life so much easier for our future selves. In fact, they’re starting to feel better already. They’re looking back at their past selves with pride and contentment.
Some Things to Think About This Week
Let’s start small and not try to do too much at once. But what would you like to have happen for your future self? What would you like them to harvest? And what can you be doing now to start planting the seeds? We mentioned it can be difficult to really face the present moment and shape it in a way that will make our future selves grateful. And it starts with loving yourself enough to do something about it. This week, we will remind ourselves that we and our future selves are worth it. And we will attend to the present in such a way that our future selves will look back on us with gratitude.
When we deny the full expression of our grief, it lays like a weight on our hearts, causing emotional pain and physical ailments – bell hooks
Processing Grief and Loss
No person who comes to Barn Life to heal is a stranger to grief and loss. Whether it be a physical death or loss of relationships or even the feeling of disconnection, we all experience having to endure the process of grief. This very personal journey can be very destabilizing for many of our clients. Many clients, I’ve noticed, have acknowledged that they have experienced the death of a loved one in the past and have never fully processed that loss and held space for grief.
A Confusing and Isolating Time
This past year has been full of loss and many have struggled to allow themselves to sit with grief or even identify feelings oriented around grief due to current circumstances. With the holidays, death and loss can be especially prominent for our clients at Barn Life. Many tend to find themselves reminded of a loved one who they have lost. It can be especially challenging for those who have not been able to fully process their loss. For these folks, it could be a very confusing and isolating time.
Healing in Community
This week, we are looking to allow space to normalize grief. Additionally, it’s important to note that the process is not always linear or clear-cut. Many times the pain of loss can be healed in communion. Think of wakes, funerals, and other memorial rituals and the power that these can wield. We are going to be using some of our process groups to allow our clients to help each other share their grief. This will be a chance to be a part of and heal in community. We could even acknowledge times when loss has helped us to develop and transform.
Some Questions to Think About
The following are some questions to consider this week. How do you perceive grief and/or loss? What has allowed you to process and hold space for your grief? How has loss been transformative or developed your character? What legacies or traditions have you carried out since your loved one’s passing? What barriers disallow you to process grief and loss? How can Barn Life best support your journey with healing from loss? How can you best support your peers and hold space for their process?
Fear is part of the human experience and unanimously felt. However, our fears are also deeply personal and rooted in lived experiences. We believe there is a threat to be feared. We believe this whether the threat is physical, such as fear of physical pain or death, or emotional, such as fear of the pain of humiliation or abandonment. No matter how realistic or unrealistic the perceived threat is, the results are typically the same and equally damaging. Second-guessing, self-doubt, and paralyzation.
Perhaps you are frozen and powerless whether you encounter a bear in the wild or a man who resembles your father in your personal space. Whether you’re sweating and your heart is pounding from the real threat of being left alone in a dangerous place, or from the imagined threat of being discovered to be “not good enough” and abandoned by a partner, the threat is real to you and your body.
Second-guessing is constant self-doubt, unsure of our choices and next moves. Unable to commit to the responsibility of our lives. Paralyzation is not only physical stillness, but not moving forward in life or emotionally connecting to it.
The fears that are more suppressed, less apparent, are often the kind that come up in therapy and block change.
Here are some ways to uncover them: envision yourself “giving up” your brokenness, your self-destruction, your self-doubt, your addictions, your feeling of being in control, your current comfort. What do you fear you will experience? For most, it has to do with loss – loss of control, loss of relationship or connection, loss of identity, loss of life itself.
Before you can envision what you will gain by “healing” and “transforming,” you need to first acknowledge and process what you will be losing. You will be uncomfortable and feel vulnerable and out of control. How will you manage that? How will you be supported in that? Can you do it?
The alternative is to stay the same.
Now let that play out. Staying the same. Eventually going back to what you know best.
Solution/Resolution – Our Favorite Part
The antidote to fear is truth. Truth about who am I and what my life is. What is my purpose in this life? What are my values? Am I the person I want to be? What do I bring to relationships? What do I offer this world? Is it my strength? My kindness? My intelligence? Is it my ability to make others feel nurtured? My ability to create something of beauty? We must walk through fear with our strengths. If you are entirely unsure, that is part of your work at Barn Life – discovering and committing to yourself.
This week, contemplate any potential losses or discomfort that you envision occurring due to change.
Here are some questions to think about:
What are your conscious fears (“I’m afraid I’ll never even be able to get better”) and your unconscious fears (“I’m afraid that when people get to know the real me they will leave me”) that you have been numbing?
If you continued to live in fear, what would paralyzation/shrugging into sameness look like to you? What is comfortable about this?
Are there any fears you have settled into and made your “truths” you live by? (E.g., My “truth” is that I am always rejected. No matter what I do or who I pretend to be, so I sabotage relationships and choose people I feel are less than me so I can reject them first).
What will you gain by challenging a specific fear in your life (e.g., fear of rejection, fear of losing control, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death)?
How can we at Barn Life help you begin to challenge and take action steps toward facing and challenging these fears?
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Positivity Psychology and Confrontations With the Unconscious
I admit that positive psychology and I are not always on ‘speaking terms’ in the family of psychotherapy. The soul often burdens the therapeutic notion that thinking positive or feeling happy is our measure of health. Depth psychologically speaking, the pull into our deeper, heavier and conflict-ridden spaces is an invitation to meaning, passion, and drive. By contrast, the spirit of positivity aims at ascension, relying on the angelic-liberation motif. We may avoid altogether the gripping and necessary confrontations with the unconscious.
A Spirit of Gratitude
Like the estranged sibling or the conflict-avoidant mother, positive psychology dismisses some of my deeper values. It often leaves the table without consideration or sensitivity to the many emotions present in the family unit. On the one hand, positivity can be described as contagious. It welcomes a spirit of gratitude and lifts us from the humdrum of mediocrity into the realms on high. Who doesn’t benefit from the gift of appreciation and light? On the other, who among us hasn’t felt the obvious and shallow reframe amongst clients’ family and friends where otherwise significant and weighty realities starve behind forced smiles and empty hugs?
Masking the Palpable Tension
Perhaps the issue is not with gratitude in the archetypal sense with a depth of discovery and embodied resonance. Rather, it’s when gratitude masks the palpable tension. I’ve always considered myself a realist in the sense that small talk dries me out. I think the villain in my narrative is more the shallow optimist than the heartfelt seeker of appreciation. One replaces reality with superficiality while the other draws upon the nourishment that thankfulness provides us all.
Gratitude and the Perspective of Advancement
Emerson reminds us that gratitude can become habitual. He heralds the role of gratitude in the perspective of advancement. I say we fall on a broad spectrum in regard to our gratitude. Sometimes we hang on for dear life and others attract the perspectives of a positive outlook. It can sometimes be difficult to search out what we are grateful for, especially for those estranged from family around the holidays. I found it particularly interesting in my research on gratitude this week that cross-culturally holidays celebrating thanks and gratitude can be found spanning recorded history. It would seem an innate virtue this cultivation of gratitude, both for the inner life and the interpersonal/ inter-communal life.
First comes the acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life. In a state of gratitude, we say yes to life. We affirm that all in all, life is good, and has elements that make it worth living and rich in texture. The acknowledgment that we have received something gratifies us, both by its presence and by the effort the giver put into choosing it.
Second, gratitude is recognizing that some of the sources of this goodness lie outside the self. One can be grateful to other people, to animals, and to the world, but not to oneself. At this stage, we recognize the goodness in our lives and who to thank for it, ie., who made sacrifices so that we could be happy?
The two stages of gratitude comprise the recognition of the goodness in our lives, and then how this goodness came to us externally lies. By this process, we recognize the gifts of everything that makes our lives—and ourselves—better.
The Cultivation of Perspective and Connection
As Einstein once offered, we have only one decision in life: whether we live in a kind or unkind universe. I say gratitude offers both a catharsis and an invitation to reciprocity. Gratitude shows us the kind of universe we want to live in. In recognition of that which we have received, we learn to open ourselves to life. When our mental health is on the line, we may resist any receptivity. Feelings are guarded against any penetration from others or circumstances as a way of survival. I see gratitude as the rightful opening of oneself. To feel appreciative rather than fearful can cultivate the kinds of intimacy and hopefulness that we need most. When gratitude is considered an embodied emotion, one learns, as Emerson described the “cultivation” of perspective and connection.
This week we take a simple look at the cultivation of gratitude and the benefits of embodied receptivity and appreciation. Positive psychology is a valued member of the family of intervention and we can take a look at the historical virtue of thanks as a reminder of the potent power of deep receiving and deep meaningful advancement.
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