Friday, July 28, 2017

Grandma's Medicine

A recent Washington Post article detailed a mental health initiative in Zimbabwe that utilizes “community grandmothers” -- lay health workers trained in counseling skills, problem solving and self-care -- to help provide vital mental health services to the millions of under-served people facing emotional challenges. These elders are a vital source of support and healing for a nation of more than 14 million residents -- who are served by 13 psychiatrists​ throughout the entire country.

Known as the Friendship Bench Project, this effort highlights the crucial role of connection and listening in facilitating healing. As a trained social worker, I would never underestimate the importance of the education I received, which enables me to diagnose mental illness, discern appropriate treatment protocols for various presenting problems, and understand psychopharmacology’s use in abetting symptoms. But decades of book learning is useless without the gifts of compassion, empathy and unconditional positive regard that all of us can learn and practice. Feeling heard, validated and supported help empower individuals to value themselves and their experiences, and to make healthy choices that move their lives forward. Knowing the difference between generalized anxiety disorder and OCD, for example, requires specific knowledge and assessment skills. But any of us can provide a safe and welcoming embrace, an interest in each other’s feelings, fears and experiences. Like these African grandmothers, we can ease other’s suffering, and their isolation, by the gift of our genuine interest and presence.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

No Fear

Any belief that generates fear or feelings of unworthiness is false; it's a lie...Our authentic self would never abuse us; it comes from love. --Don Miguel Ruiz

Freedom comes with realizing that our fear is not real. ​Our fear is created by the beliefs and thoughts we let rule our lives. Whether we fear snakes, being alone, losing a job or death, all fear is empowered by the beliefs we carry. The death of a loved one will hurt, and we will feel loss. But fearing that experience is a choice. Losing a job may create hardship or unknown consequences, but fear is not an intrinsic component of loss. If we can courageously choose to feel our experiences rather than fear them, we may discover a range of possible reactions, including wonder and awe, a well of inner strength, a softness within us that allows for the tenderest of connection. It is said that love is the opposite of fear. When we foster beliefs based in love, we expand our possibilities, our faith, our compassion for others, and our value of ourselves.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


My teachers have all come with the same message. Not “I am holier than thou,” but “You are as holy as I am.” -- Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God

Even if we can resist the pursuit of perfection, most of us find ourselves striving to be better than we currently are, to grow, ​whether it be in knowledge, insight, skill or physical strength. Accepting ourselves as we are can feel like “settling.” But consider the quote above. What if, just as we are, we are already “perfect”? What if our ideal self is flawed, and quirky; passionate and doubting; stubborn and patient and loving and fierce? Being our best selves needn't mean pushing ourselves to change. Perhaps, with our failings and questions and achievements, we are​ as we are meant to be. Maybe perfection is messy. Maybe it includes mistakes as well as accomplishments. Maybe our “holiness” resides in all that we are, exactly as we are.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Lost and Found

Sometimes what we appear to have lost is simply something it was time to leave behind. --
Marianne Williamson

I cried tears of joy on my son’s graduation day. But I was also overwhelmed with sadness, a deep grieving for the end of the long chapter of my son’s childhood. I was struck, like so many parents before me, by the swiftness of the passing of time, and felt the bittersweet loss of my “little boy”, who almost magically appears to have transformed into the young man poised to launch into the larger world. But the quote above reminds me that endings need not be infused only with grief. Indeed, movement forward embraces possibilities that are yet to be, and can mark the necessity of endings to make room for the new, the better. “Leaving behind” my son’s school years speaks to his readiness to embark on his next adventure. Without doubt, graduating high school is an essential step in his journey to the person he is to become. Alongside my wistfulness for the gummy smile and sweet baby smell of his younger years, I can confer gratitude on all the stages that brought him to this milestone. And he can find his way forward to his truest, most brilliant self.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Happy Mother’s Day! 

I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars. 
-- E.M. Forster

Parents want the best for their children. We want our children to be happy, safe; to achieve their dreams, to be proud of who they are. We want them to live in a world of peace and limitless possibilities. Legions of men support pacifism and resolution of conflict by peaceful means. But every mother I know would not think twice about embracing the children of a sworn enemy. The responsibility, empathy and nurturing that defines motherhood is not bestowed only on our own children. Being a mother means being a mother to everyone -- always. ​We are mothers to our friends, to the earth, to our pets, to all beings in need of unconditional love and acceptance. Being a mother is the blessing of all creation, and the most meaningful role I could imagine. This Mother’s Day, may all of the “mothers” of the world, regardless of gender, inspire us to meet each other with peace, love and gratitude. And may we celebrate them for their investment in all the world’s children.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Shine On

The sun shines on everyone without discrimination. - Pema Chodron, Buddhist

None of us thrives in darknesss. We need to step out from the shadows to soak up the energy that comes from the light. Yet, sometimes we can feel as if grace and fate and all good things are beyond our grasp. That we have missed our chance, that our flaws and mistakes eliminate our access to universal goodness. Yet, in truth, the sun doesn't ask our permission to cloak us in its healing. Simply being on this earth is our entrance fee to its sustaining and fueling charge. We don't need to “earn” our place in the sun. It's the same with our worth. Acknowledging our innate value, that we matter simply because we exist, is our birthright. As we can choose to turn our faces toward the sun, we can embrace our lives--each and every one of us--as the singular gifts they are from the universe. Let it shine. Let US shine, as brightly as the Earth’s star.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Feelings can be scary. Intense emotions, like rage or grief, can feel overwhelming or out of of our control. But if we can step back from our experience and look more closely at what we feel, we find that other, more tender emotions lie beneath that intensity, emotions that can teach us more about ourselves and even allow us to connect more authentically with others.

Under the Cover of Darkness

Anger, for example, is a secondary emotion; that is, its appearance masks more vulnerable feelings like fear and hurt. When we have been mistreated, we may feel more powerful tapping into our anger at the slight than if we allow ourselves to feel the pain of our hurt or disappointment. I've often seen clients keep their partners at a distance with bluster and rages, only to dig deeper to discover that the explosive partner is terrified of being hurt, and acts out in order to feel safe from the perceived threat of being abandoned. Uncovering our vulnerabilities is courageous work; to allow someone else access to our hurt, fear and insecurity can feel like we are standing naked in a snowstorm. But the truth about our most vulnerable feelings is that they are universal -- all humans have felt them. Some of us are better skilled at burying our softness, but only when we bring these emotions and yearnings into the light, and toward each other, can we be fully seen and accepted. Our shared hurt and fear, our mirrored sadness and despair, can be bridges that bring us closer together, not keep us apart. The next time you feel enraged at a situation or person, peek beneath the anger. The fear, grief or shame you see there is an opportunity to know yourself more honestly, to accept your vulnerability as gratefully as your strength, and to offer yourself with more truth and wholeness to someone else.