Hakomi? What’s that?

When many people hear “psychotherapy”, they still have the image of Freud analyzing someone’s words as they lay on a couch. While information is helpful, ‘knowing why’ something happens does not make it go away or immediately change it. Sometimes it even makes things worse, as we get critical and judge ourselves if we don’t suddenly change something!

In my own personal experience, I knew why certain events in my life made me unhappy. However, knowing the logical reasons around the events did nothing to change my unhappiness or my beliefs about myself! I was drawn to Hakomi from my first introduction to its power: my body responding to a simple, serious statement with a fit of uncontrollable laughter. This was a strong, undeniable message about my beliefs around anger that I hadn’t known about! Since then, through Hakomi, I’ve been able to develop a new relationship with myself that is much less critical, more relaxed, and more fulfilled. With increased awareness, I can better take care of my own emotions and needs, so I’m happier with myself, as well as in my relationships with others.

What is Hakomi?

Hakomi is a mindful approach to therapy that facilitates change in an experiential way. It works with what is present, without always needing the story. It invites the wisdom of the body and emotions in a more holistic way than simply ‘talking about’ the problem.

Hakomi trusts in the innate tendency toward healing. Even after a doctor performs surgery, much of the healing process comes from the body – white blood cells battle infection, platelets create a scab, and new cells grow to heal a wound. Similarly, emotional wounds can find their own path to healing if given enough of a safe environment where they are welcome to show up as they are, without having to “make sense”.

Hakomi invites compassionate curiosity to explore and change the core beliefs that get in our way. Having the embodied sense of what feels ‘right’ and true can create a big shift in our ability to create lasting change and freedom. We can’t control others, we can only practice being the self we want to be. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean having to change everything around us!

Hakomi involves the use of mindfulness in order to increase awareness of ourselves and our ways of interacting. Especially in our busy ‘doing’ society, the mere experience of this level of attention can bring some healing. By listening to the deeper messages of what is needed, new experiences can be created to heal old wounds. Acceptance, emotional safety, being good enough, the ability to trust, are all common themes that can grow and improve through Hakomi.

What does Hakomi look like?

Since Hakomi is an exploration, there is a lot of room for creativity in sessions. What comes up can be surprising, and sometimes fun! As much of the work is done in mindfulness, many clients opt to work with their eyes closed, so they can be attentive to their own experience, rather than distracted by conversation. Maybe we start by exploring the color, shape, or temperature of your pain. Maybe we explore the sensation of protection and safety with a pillow fort. Or maybe we simply study that subtle gesture of raising your shoulders ever so slightly when someone asks you for something. The body shares information like this with us all the time; I can help you slow down and listen to the messages that want to be heard, and create new experiences to feel more whole and at peace.

 

Give it a Rest!

Smartphones are blurring the lines between work and play. With the convenience of being forever-connected comes the expectation of responding immediately. Work isn’t left “at work” anymore; the stress is carried home. Personal connections get looser as Facebook becomes the new minimum and lunch dates to catch up fall by the wayside, and privacy is a thing of the past.

The benefits of smartphones are obvious, but the detriments are underestimated. The stress and ‘pressure to respond’ is not insignificant, even if it’s difficult to measure. However, if you’ve experienced any of the following, you may want to consider the role technology may play:

  • Difficulty focusing attention or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Communication issues in relationships
  • Making more mistakes
  • Decline in memory abilities
  • Quickly moving thoughts
  • Sense of inadequacy or inefficiency
  • Malaise, or anxiety of ‘missing out on’ things
  • Reduced creativity

According to research, the concept of multitasking is found to be more problematic than helpful.

We only have so much mental focus to attend to things, and the more attention we pay to our technology, the less attention we’re paying to ourselves. This can result in overeating or skipping meals, and greater difficulty identifying and meeting our needs, whether for sleep, food, or human contact. Combine the stress of feeling pressured by the stimulus on the phone with unmet needs and we can end up cranky or snapping at people without really knowing why.

If you think technology might be creating a problem for or your relationships, it does not mean you have to give up your phone! This can be an opportunity to practice healthy tools that can be useful in other aspects of your life as well.

Mindfulness is the opposite of multi-tasking. It is the simple slowing down and intentional focus on a single activity. In graduate school, our introduction to mindfulness was the task of taking a full five minutes to eat a single raisin. We were asked to pay attention to the texture between our fingers, the smell. The malleability and density, the flavor on our tongue. All the small qualities that frequently get overlooked, we were asked to notice and appreciate. Anything can be done mindfully, and it can be a wealth of information revealed to us if we choose to pay attention. If you’re having a conversation with someone…try doing it mindfully, and giving them your full attention. Look at them to take in their body language and facial expression. Listen to the quality of their voice, and their choice of words to express their message.

Try to make technology usage choiceful, rather than a compulsive default response to boredom. See how you feel if you make a greater attempt to smile at strangers throughout your day. Allow yourself to really connect with people, and do things because you choose to, rather than simply reacting to reminders and notification alarms on your phone. View the sunset and experience the beauty of it’s transiency, rather than filtering it through a camera. Explore the power in ‘being’ without having to layer it up with ‘doing’ and see how the quality of life changes.

Do a web search for “no phone for a year” and you’ll find numerous accounts of people sharing what they gain by ‘losing out on’ being ‘connected’. Setting intentions to turn off the phone at night, and most especially, not check work emails until you’ve already gotten out of bed in the morning to start your day, can make a significant impact on your mood and stress. Take the time to wake up, open your eyes, and orient to your existence before ‘clocking in’ at work. You deserve it!


 
Video credit: Gary Turk

Healing Rites of Passage: The Value of Divorce Parties

I read a blog article today of someone bashing the idea of Divorce Parties, based on the author’s assumption that having a party means the marriage was never taken seriously, that it meant a total disregard for the former partner’s feelings, and the vows taken.

I whole-heartedly disagree with his view. In a society that struggles with allowing grief, that continues to lose touch with the value of rites of passage, where divorce is judged as a taboo, I’d like to share some thoughts on the value of Divorce Parties, and why, if you’re in process of divorcing or recently divorced, you may want to consider having one.

Divorce is frequently a lonely process. In the co-parenting classes I’ve taught, the most repeated piece of feedback received is the value of the group dynamic: others to share with, and knowing you’re not the only one struggling. Oftentimes with divorce, friendships are lost as some feel the need to ‘side’ with one partner or the other. Others, even the most well-intentioned, may simply not know how to support the divorcing friend. Combine that with the sense of shame, and difficulty of even finding the right moment to share with people “We’re getting divorced,” coming to the place of feeling OK to publicly celebrate the finality of the marriage can be a significant turning point in breaking the perpetuation of shame and the fear of acknowledging the divorce. It is an announcement to friends and family that it is OK to talk about the situation, rather than the wondering of “Maybe it’s too sensitive for Mary to want to talk about,” or, on the divorcee’s side, “It might make my friends uncomfortable if I bring it up.” Having a party, therefore, breaks that need to be alone and stay silent, and may help facilitate support. When there’s a topic at hand that generally carries a lot of shame in addition to a possibly difficult, stressful, or emotionally laden topic, people gathering in a message of “we accept you,” can be powerful.

Weddings are one of the biggest rites of passage still celebrated in American society, alongside graduations and perhaps funerals. While some cultures do still hold onto the rite of passage of entering into adulthood, it seems this is less frequent than it used to be. Indeed, the subconscious need for a rite of passage may actually fuel the desire for marriage in some cases. If it is important to acknowledge the joining together of two people, why is it not equally important to acknowledge the new independence of someone? From child to adult, from single to married, from married to divorced; it is a new identity- sometimes wanted, sometimes not- that deserves acknowledgment which can help a person settle into the role, rather than getting stuck in denial, anger, depression, or any other stage of grief.

The timing of the party is something worth mentioning here: one transition that comes through a grief process is the shift of mourning the past, to looking forward to a new future without the loss. It’s wise to pay attention to where you are in the process, and when you’re ready to consciously make the shift to forward looking – and not mark the turning point before you’re ready.

Let’s not, of course, forget the difficulty of the legal side of things. Even in the simplest, most amicable divorces, in California your divorce will not be final for at least 6 months and one day from the day you file. There’s legal jargon to translate, financials to disclose, paperwork to file in triplicate, all along with the little day to day things like changing your exemptions at work, separating auto and health insurance, and bank accounts, and belongings to divvy up. In more complicated divorces, there are custody arrangements to settle and support payments to determine. It’s a lot, and coming to an end of a long process is an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated in some capacity.

While legal and practical issues of transitioning to being divorced necessarily take space and get discussed more openly, the pervasive, deeper issues often get ignored or overlooked. Divorce is more than a breakup, more than the decision to not continue sharing a life with someone. As promise is involved, at least in a legal context, and frequently in a religious one as well, divorce can bring up feelings of betrayal and guilt, shame, issues around trust (in both others and self), and low self-esteem. You do not need to carry eternal shame for getting divorced. To truly be able to move on and live a fulfilling life, forgiveness needs to come into play. Forgiveness is often difficult when there has been a lot of pain, but not forgiving does not protect you the way people tend to believe. A divorce party can mark the choice to forgive yourself for anything you feel needs forgiving. Whether you have a sense of guilt for “giving up on them/my vow”, self-directed anger for “ever trusting them with my heart”, or any other number of things, forgiveness of self is crucial to truly moving on with the view that you deserve to be happy again. You do deserve to be happy.

Whether all of these points are commemorated publicly through a party or in some other, more private act, it is important to acknowledge with intention the complexity of the Divorce transition and your multiple personal processes (legal, social, emotional, spiritual,) of moving through it.

Anger is not Evil!

Anger can be a touchy topic for many people, because it’s usually clouded with shame, fear, and hurt. A helpful step to ensuring a healthy relationship to anger is to untangle some of the confusion around it, so let’s start with some definitions.

Anger is an emotion, something we feel. Emotions are messages. If we’re happy, the message may be “do more of this”. With anger, the message is a motivator for something to change. This message is important. There is nothing wrong with it, in and of itself, and in fact is healthy, as it reflects a care for oneself.

One place anger becomes problematic is when it is directed toward someone. Blame (not to be confused with responsibility) is never useful. The purpose of blame is typically not just to hold someone responsible for their actions, but to make them feel bad for it, with some expectation that it will somehow make us feel better. Unfortunately, this rarely works, because the other person’s sense of guilt or shame does not change the hurt we feel. The other problem with blame is that the focus remains on the past, which can sometimes keep us stuck in the hurt.

Asking someone to take responsibility differs from blame, in that the focus is not on the past, but on looking forward. It can sometimes be helpful to let someone know that they’ve upset you if this awareness can prevent future offenses. Note, the responsibility here can be taken for the event that triggered your anger, but it does not mean the person is responsible for making you feel better. Sometimes, acknowledgment or apology may happen, which can ease the process of moving on from the hurt, but not always. It is important to remember responsibility may not get acknowledged, and learning to let go without recognition from the offending party is a valuable skill to a happy life.

Another useful concept to managing anger is triggers. “Lucy made me angry,” would be an incorrect statement. Lucy may have done something to trigger your anger, but she does not have the responsibility for (or power to control) your emotions! Understanding the idea of triggers can help keep from magnifying the anger to the point it gets out of hand, or moves toward blame, which usually only leads to defensiveness. Triggers are (often subtle) events that somehow remind us of a hurt we experienced in the past. This means the intensity anger we experience may not necessarily be in line with the nature of the trigger. Awareness of triggers can be a useful tool for emotional well-being. While some triggers may be nearly universal, each person has their own set of triggers based on life experiences. When a trigger occurs, we are rarely aware in the moment of what it has triggered, but if the anger is intense, there’s a good chance it has triggered something deep. You don’t need to feel bad for feeling intense anger. You may, however, want to step back from the situation and spend time with the message the anger has for you, rather than blaming the person who triggered you.

Assumptions can play a big part in how we respond to anger. Say Lucy doesn’t return your phone call. This may anger some people, but not others. Steve may assume she was busy, or maybe her phone died, and think nothing of it, while Diana may assume Lucy is being deliberately disrespectful and get quite angry. Once emotions enter the situation, it can be difficult to question our assumptions, however, doing so can help diffuse the anger.

Along with all of these concepts, of course, comes expression of anger. Anger usually comes with a fair amount of energy. This can be scary for some people, especially if it feels “out of control”. Many people have learned that, therefore, it is simply not okay to be angry. This is not true, and most likely, impossible! It is okay to be angry; it is not okay to express your anger in a way that could hurt someone. There are many healthy outlets for the energy associated with anger, such as exercise, dance, art, listening to music, breathing, journaling. Figuring out a healthy outlet that works for you creates a freedom to have your emotions without damaging relationships or property, and may even allow for greater healing of past events.

Below anger lies hurt, and it is good to seek support around hurt. You do not have to face it alone, dismiss it, or let your anger be bigger than you. Remember, anger is just a message; the more you can slow down and hear what it has to tell you, the more choice you have in how you respond.

6 Steps to a Successful New Year

A New Year often gives people a sense of a new start, a renewed ambition toward self improvement after getting lost in the busy holiday season. To make use of ambition is a wonderful thing! It can also be difficult starting off with having stayed up late the night before, not to mention the cold weather can inhibit that inspiration to get out and run first thing in the morning! This article is designed to empower you to succeed at your goals.

1. Set goals, not resolutions. Resolutions carry a connotation of finality. That X definitely will happen! Or Y will never happen again!while this is a nice thought, it denies humanity and the fact that circumstances in life (like illness) are changing and not always predictable. Setting goals means you don’t have to give up just because you’ve fallen off the wagon. You can re-dedicate to your intention and start again. Most likely, the targets you’ve chosen are not so simple, else you’d already have accomplished them! Forming new good habits, success, takes practice. Allow for that! Don’t shame yourself for mistakes or missteps, shake it off and keep going.

2. Define effort-steps. On numerous occasions, I have heard people decide they want to lose weight or get in shape in the new year. But what does this mean? Results-based goals are a fine starting place, but they are often too vague. How are you going to achieve the results you’ve decided on? Will the weight miraculously disappear off your body? Effort steps are concrete things you are going to do to help you reach your result-goals. “I am going to reduce my fast food intake to 1 time per month” and “I am going to run or walk at least 15 minutes 2 days a week” are clear effort-steps that can set you on your path to success.

3. Plan. Most likely, it is more than just a lack of discipline that has gotten in the way of making good intentions a reality in the past. Have you set the same resolution year in and year out, without success? What has gotten in the way? If you are intending to add something to your routine, this will likely take some time, that will have to come from another activity that already has space in your life. Where will the sacrifices be? Are there temptations you face? Are there steps you can take to eliminate these temptations? Are there resources that will help make your goals easier? Plan Bs such as some workout routines on Youtube when the rain prevents you from taking that walk? I like using apps like Balanced to help remind me of my goals so they don’t slip past me.

4. Be realistic. An ambitious person might declare, “I’m going to work out every day!” If you’ve never worked out before, muscle soreness, among other things, have the potential of creating discouragement early in the new process. It’s okay to work up to things and set stepwise goals. A goal such as working out 2-3 days a week allows for delays due to illness or weather or early work meetings, without having to throw you off your game completely. If the goal is a limitation, you may want to consider an occasional ‘cheat day/moment’ so you don’t end up feeling rebellious against the deprivation you impose on yourself!It is also wise to be mindful of the number of goals you set in regards to your progress. I like to set more than one, as it gives me more opportunities for success! However, too many goals can create a lack of focus to be able to make progress on any one. A few goals, perhaps addressing different aspect of your lives, can help create balance and well-rounded growth.

5. Be positive. Slip ups happen! People are not perfect! Change takes time and practice, not shame or self-belittling. Be gentle with yourself in this regard. Maybe you are working out 4 days a week when you set a goal of two. Fabulous! But the weight’s not coming off yet? IT’S OKAY! Maybe you’re in the process of turning fat into muscle. Feel good about taking the right effort-steps and know you’re working toward a healthier future, even if you’re not seeing your desired results as soon as hoped. Celebrate the results you do see, give yourself credit for the efforts you’re putting in. You deserve it! If you see how you’re honoring yourself by following your intentions, it naturally reinforces your progress. Beating up on yourself for not getting it perfect often makes people want to give up.

6. Enlist support! Support feels good and can help keep you moving forward. Got a friend who shares your goals? Can you help motivate each other on the days you need it? Family and friends can offer encouragement and accountability. We are social creatures, and having to ‘do it all alone’ is difficult- it doesn’t have to be that way! See who in your life might be willing to check in with you or talk about challenges in regards to your goals. They don’t have to share the same goals in order to be supportive!

I wish you a fulfilling year of practicing new habits and healthy goals!