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Travelling Inward January 13, 2013

Filed under: Balance,Gratitude — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 6:40 pm
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The last three years have been full of travel for me. Not the travel that involves backpacks and trains and someone noisily rummaging through their luggage in a shared room at 3 in the morning. No, this travel has been internal. I have been journeying to wounds and scars and memories and strength and health and all the while learning that growth comes whether you are moving or not.

The first few years after I moved to this town, I remember being afraid that my growth would stagnate. Someone asked me years ago what my biggest fear was and at the time, without even a forethought, I said simply, “stagnation.” I was afraid to stop moving. Because in my mind, to stop moving meant to stop growing. At that point my most profound experiences of growth and transformation had come only with a backpack upon my back and foreign tongues swirling in my head. Pushing myself outside my physical comfort zone was the only way that I knew how to really grow. It was in that space that I shed the stories, shed the performance of myself and got to the essence of me. And then I’d come home again and cling desperately to that essence, vowing to not lose what I’d learned about myself and the places I’d come to discover – vowing to not go back to the old way of being.

But after about 6 months of moving to Boulder, with no big travel plans in sight, and the novelty of moving to a new place wearing off, I began to fear that staying in one place meant that those periods of profound transformation would come to an end. Or at least a temporary end until I packed up and took off again for someplace new that pushed me outside my comfort zone and reminded me of the essence of myself.

But, instead, something else happened. Something that has only become really clear to me in this time when I am in fact packing up my backpack and preparing for another journey. 7 years after moving to this town, 7 years filled with struggling to really unpack and settle in, I find that the growth that has happened while staying in the same place is profound on a level that I’d never known possible.

What happens when our internal environment becomes where we are out of our comfort zone, not our external? What happens when the places that push us and challenge us are not a foreign language or the uncertainty of ones location, but the foreignness of our own internal landscape.

Because it’s not about place, at least this time around. It’s not about something outside myself illuminating my essence. This has been an internal process and as such, I carry it with me. It is no longer about being afraid that when the external environment changes I will lose contact with this way that I know myself. And there is something so profoundly liberating about that. There is freedom in knowing myself in this way, and knowing that this self will continue to grow and change and evolve. And with that evolution I have learned to check in and to witness and to see the ways that things shift, and to trust in the unfolding.

I am comfortable now, in this once foreign landscape. I can speak the language, I know the gestures, and I have found some sacred hidden places that are full of joy. This land that was once unfamiliar to me, has become my home. And that comfort might be temporary, as all resting places really are. Inevitably, deeper travel will be spurred and more growth and learning this internal space will occur. The comfortableness arises not necessarily from knowing myself (because that which I know now is bound to change, thank you evolution). No, the comfortableness comes from trusting, trusting my inner explorer and trusting this self that I have come to discover and indeed, love. Trusting the growth and change and trusting the courage to continue exploring, to continue venturing beyond the reaches of what I know and being curious about what else is there.

This internal journey, in the way that I have known it for the past 4 years, is coming to a shift. An end of sorts, a transition into something else. It’s time for this self that I have discovered to go back out into the world. To learn what its external comfort zones are now, and to push it right out of them. It feels bittersweet, as transitions often are – full of sadness at the ending and a readiness for what is to come. And in this transition between coming and going I find myself feeling grateful for the events that set me on this journey and grateful for the beings that have walked with me through some dark and scary places – reminding me of the ground beneath my feet when it felt as if there was none. And surprisingly enough, I am grateful for the constancy of my external environment (in whatever ways anything is really constant) holding this space for me to delve into my own foreign depths.

This internal landscape is not all known to me, there is so much more territory yet to be discovered, more wounds to be healed and more tenderness to be found. And so I continue on, with this dance between internal and external. Inhabiting this body in a way that I only could through my internal explorations and carrying it out into the world to now allow my external environment to be the unknown, and to discover new landscapes with these new eyes. All the while knowing that I have found a home in myself, a land that still contains so much un-navigated ground but that now has some familiar resting places to come to when I need to catch my breath and recharge. This travelling is exhilarating and exhausting work. Thank god I get to do it.

 

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Giving Thanks: Letting go and Letting it in. November 21, 2012

Filed under: Balance,Gratitude — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 4:40 pm
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Every Thanksgiving that I can remember from birth-17 years old were spent in York Harbor, ME at my grandmother’s house with various family members in attendance, learning how to make gravy from the Turkey juice, sitting at the kid’s table, feeding the food I didn’t want to the giant goldfish in my grandmother’s winter fish tank. My first Thanksgiving not in this familiar setting was just after I turned 18, I sat on a beach on the coast of Kenya, 8 hours into my 24-hour solo experience, slicing into a fresh Mango at sunset. And in the years to come, after that deeply reflective, profoundly different holiday experience, I have found myself at tables with strangers, foreign tongues, new holiday traditions, old familiar family, newly created family, lovers, loneliness, warmth, abundance, non-tradition, and constant evolution. In the past 12 years, I have actually spent this holiday differently each year. As a lover of tradition and a creature of habit, this is kind of bizarre.

There’s a feeling of melancholy that this time of year holds for me. And despite my greatest efforts to the contrary, I find that it has arrived again this year. But, this year, unlike in the past where I’ve either resisted or swam in the melancholy, I am just watching it. I am seeing that in many ways this feeling is a pattern. It’s a place that’s familiar for me to go. It is the cliff outside my grandmother’s old home on the coast of Maine. It’s that perch that I know every crevasse of and can sit and listen to the ocean and it’s like I’ve never left.

But, the thing is, I have left. I have learned. I have uncovered the ability within myself to be with something without identifying with it. Without being it. And in that, I am beginning to shed the ties that those patterns have kept me tethered with.

There’s always been a strong sense of loneliness, of displacement, entangled with this melancholy. And frankly, some years that has been totally justified. There were a few rough years there with my ex, full of loneliness and bracing for her drunken outrages. And there was sometimes the sense of being an orphan, feeling disconnected from my family and without a safe, loving community. But in the past few years, a shift has taken place. And I’ve been participating in it without fully opening my awareness and consciousness to it, to the ways it is different and nourishing. So, here in this coffee shop, miles away from friends and family, immersing myself in a new family, exploring traditions crafted by others, I am beginning to let sink in a new way of being with patterns. And in that, I’m allowing for gratitude for what is, in this moment. And so in the tradition of Thanksgiving, I offer up a pie slice of what I am grateful for today, that I can actually allow sink and that I know is there beneath whatever emotions are churning on the surface.

My family. I am grateful that even though I am not with them right now, I want to be. My friends, for the years that we spent together (and probably will continue to in different manifestations) crafting a version of this holiday that finally made it resonate with my soul. My lover’s family who have opened their doors to me, welcoming me into their traditions. My love, herself, for sharing in this adventure of opening and deepening and revealing and loving in a way that feels nurturing and unconditional to a degree I never believed possible. Solitude. I am grateful that I can take this time for myself, to be tender with myself, to reflect and release and honor all that arises for me at this time, and move through it into something new. The tenderness to allow for old patterns and beliefs to die away, making room for something new. To take the cynicism I have long held around this holiday and transmute it into gratitude for what is in this moment. I am grateful for family, those we’re born into and those we create and the sometimes-vast differences between them.

Gratitude for what we’re all learning here, the processes we are engaged in, the healing and growth we are moving through together, the tender places in our hearts we are learning to let others see, the opening that we are allowing for and the practice of remaining in that openness for a split second beyond what feels comfortable, to allow a little more light into the darkness, a little more compassion for the raw places in all of us.

And today in particular, I am grateful for my grandmother, for the family and traditions that she created. I am grateful that even though I wandered some years, I always knew that there was a place for me at her Thanksgiving table, a glass of ginger ale by my plate.

 

We’re All In This Together November 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 7:39 pm
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So here we are on election night, the polls closing one by one and the results starting to come in. As I watch the sky outside my window turn from blue to purple (that’s not a metaphor, I promise) my thoughts turn from political turmoil to how I spent my day yesterday. It was another spectacular fall day here in Colorado and I spent it in the woods near my house harvesting Osha root. So, instead of heading down the political rabbit hole, speculating about results and the future of this country, I’m going to direct my attention right now to this root and the lesson it offered me as one of my favorite plant teachers.

Osha is fabulous for immune support and respiratory support; it’s warming and moving. It’s has many many medicinal properties, but beyond its healing power in the body it is a great teacher. You see, Osha grows amongst Aspen trees. You may or may not know this but an Aspen grove is actually one organism, it has one root system – like Mangroves. Aspens have a network of roots underground connecting them to one another, and in this web of nourishment is where Osha roots down. Osha grows by being held in the complex root system of another organism. And this is what Osha teaches me: to provide and receive support for one another’s growth. To be held by a greater community and to root down in this support, gaining nourishment and strength, to be both the giver and receiver of support because we cannot grow alone. We need each other to heal and to grow.

It’s been a tough past few months (and longer than that for those of us in swing states) of political rhetoric and slander. What I’m aware of in this divisive climate is that tomorrow regardless of who is president, we still have to take care of each other. Right? Because the fact of the matter is, when it comes down to it, we’re all in this together. We’re all struggling and fighting and breathing and thriving and surviving in this and we need one another.

As an East coast transplant to Colorado, I recently found myself pouring over photos and stories of Superstorm Sandy and they brought me to tears over and over again. Not at the destruction, but at the humanity. At one human being helping another. People showing up for one another, taking care of one another, strangers supporting strangers – with not one question of who they’re going to vote for in the upcoming election.

In this political climate it’s so easy to be swept up in the divisive rhetoric, to allow for the polarization that politics seems to thrive on. But, tonight, I want to offer a gentle reminder. We’re all human. And we’re all in this together. If we take a lesson from the Osha plant, we allow ourselves to be held and supported by those around us. We root down into the soil, seeking nourishment. And when the time comes, we offer up our strengths in whatever way will best serve our community. And no matter what happens tonight or tomorrow or in the next four years, we need to keep taking care of each other, supporting each other, and growing together.

 

 

On being between trapezes September 4, 2012

Filed under: Balance — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 11:23 am
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I was out walking Lucy this evening, strolling the dirt alleyways in my neighborhood and I started thinking about transitions. While pretty much every parched cell in my body is excited that summer is beginning it’s ending march, still…I see the water levels dropping in the creek beds, the dying off of summer wildflowers, the fact that when I was finishing work yesterday around 8 I needed to turn another light on in my office, and a part of me feels a twinge of sadness at the passing of summer. Don’t get me wrong, this one was particularly brutal and about 2 months ago I found myself longing for the crispness of fall. And while that’s not yet upon us (it was 90 degrees at its hottest today, definitely not fall yet), public schools have been back in session for a few weeks (whatever happened to starting after labor day?!), CU started up last week (this is the month that anyone in their right mind avoids Target like the plague), the regular summer events have wrapped up and while the Wednesday evening farmer’s market is in full effect still, it’s getting dark by the time the tents are brought down and the veggies packed up.

And maybe the sense of transition is so strong for me right now because I’m moving again and I’m looking at the face of transition of home and what that means for me and how I’ve worked with that in the past. In many ways it feels a little like I just got here, but in reality it’s been about 9 months and truth be told, I’m not sure where I’m going to be landing in a week. There’s so much uncertainty in this transition and I find that I’m grateful for the environmental transitions right now because it reminds me of the natural course of all of this.

I do not do transitions well. Maybe my lack of anxiety around this move and the uncertainty is stemming from denial rather than a surrender and trust in the universe. Who knows? What I do know is that being in between trapezes is scary. Not having something familiar to hold on to, not really knowing what the next thing is going to look like.

So what do we do in the in-between? How do we find grace in transitions and gentleness with ourselves as we move into uncharted territory? Here, I take a lesson from my nephew. He doesn’t do transitions well, either, and he’s not ashamed to demonstrate that. I sometimes wonder if we ever really get better at transitions or we just learn how to cope in different ways than when we’re 2. But he seems to move through them easier if there is something familiar, no matter how small.

And so, let’s call this: A Transition Object and go find one. Maybe it’ll be a crab apple from the tree that hangs over my porch, or maybe a stone from the trail near my house that I’ve wandered up countless afternoons in the past 9 months, or maybe something that I don’t even know yet but it’ll jump out at me and let me know that it’ll be my familiar as I move into the unfamiliar. It will help remind me that while everything around me is shifting into something new, there is something solid that I can hold on to. For as long as I need to.

Because that’s the other piece. Inevitably the unfamiliar becomes familiar, we recognize faces, remember names, establish routines, find the best parking spot, recognize where we are when we wake up in the morning. It’s the beauty of transition, it’s not permanent. Not that anything is, but really the nature of transition is that you move from one place (mental/emotional/physical, etc.) to another and the movement is transition, but then you arrive and you move out of transition.

So, wherever you are, you may be noticing the hints of transition coming up on you, or you may be in the throes of it at the moment, or you may be moving out of it already. Whatever the case may be, can you find a sense of mindfulness with the temporary nature of transitions? Feel the strength that is required to remain airborne between trapezes and the courage it takes to trust that another trapeze will swing your way – and before you know it, you’ll be in flight with something to hold on to. At least for a little while.

 

Maitri May 10, 2012

Filed under: Balance — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:26 pm
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“This complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is called maitri, a simple, direct relationship with the way we are.” – Pema Chodron

I got myself a tattoo for my birthday last October. The most visible one yet. The next one’s going on my forehead. Just kidding. But there is something significant about the visibility of this one, and it’s not because I’ve learned to make peace with permanence and impermanence (because I haven’t actually). It’s on the inside of my left forearm and it’s a ball jar with a label on it: maitri.

I could go into the symbolism of the jar, but I think that’s a whole other entry. The focus of this right now is on the label, the word maitri. Maitri is a Sanskrit word that was shared with me by a very wise woman in my life a few years ago. It has a few different interpretations, including loving-kindness (Metta meditation) and friendliness, but the one that resonated the most with me was “unconditional friendship with oneself.” And this. This felt pretty important to permanently affix to my body. As Pema Chodron says, “complete acceptance of ourselves as we are.” Anyone who has ever tried this can most likely attest to how freakin’ hard that is.

So, in light of this, I ask you: is it possible to engage in radical acceptance of yourself, exactly as you are, warts and all, as they say? Accept the flaws and the beauty, trusting that they really are one and the same. Accept the things you wish were different, the things you’d like to change, the things that maybe keep you from being where you want to be. Accept it all, just as it is, just as you are, right now. But wait, that ‘s not all. The potency is not limited to accepting what is but also in holding space for a shift: radical acceptance while simultaneously holding the possibility of something else. For example, I accept that throughout my life, I have developed this pattern of retreating and guarding myself to keep people from getting too close. In this practice of maitri, though, my work is in accepting that pattern, witnessing it, holding it in non-judgment, and then asking myself “what else is possible here?” Is it possible for me to do something different this time? Is it possible to let myself remain open just a fraction of a second longer this time, thus ever so slightly changing the pattern? Is it possible for me to give myself permission to go fully into this guarding pattern, trusting that I am also capable of moving out of it?

When I say radical acceptance, I mean radical. I mean, all of it. I mean the demons and shadows and murky, muddy, dark places of yourself that no one has ever seen – that you have barely let yourself see. I mean holding space for all of the places in yourself that you judge, all of those places you have deemed shameful. You don’t need to love them (at least not right now), but can you hold them, can you accept them? Can you trust that they served a purpose in your life at one point, maybe not in a way that you can understand right now or not in a way that has any sort of story around it, but they did serve you at one point? In whatever way, they somehow contributed to you being present right now.

This is a big undertaking, I will be the first to admit that. But, I’ve got a proposal for you, if you decide to embark on this path. It can be really hard to trust that things can be any different than they are (or have been). So for the time begin, I’ll trust in that possibility for you. Because of this I am certain, we can all grow, we can all change, and we can all heal. And what that might look like, I have no idea (for me or anyone else), but I trust that there is always the possibility of something else. And I’m walking this road, too. And I know that the darkest places in myself only look this dark to me, just as the darkest places in you are only that dark to you.  So, what do you say? Meet you there?

 

Exploring Edges. February 27, 2012

remember: the body’s pain and the pain on the streets/are not the same but you can learn/from the edges that blur O you who love clear edges/more than anything watch the edges that blur. ~ Adrienne Rich

Edges. Pushing edges. Hell, finding edges. Exploring, lingering, waiting, hating, resisting, relishing, resting, breaking, blurring, reinforcing, meeting – discovering the edges within ourselves, those far reaches beyond which is no-man’s land, perhaps even literally. This is a practice.

What does an edge even look like? I can only tell you what it looks like for me. For me, it’s the place where, when I am opening to vulnerability, right before it gets to be too much. That’s an edge for me, where I can operate in a way that feels safe and comfortable and easy (although not too cushy), but I can see that with a slight push I will be out of a space that’s comfortable. Your edges will probably look different than mine, but there is a universality to finding those spaces in ourselves where we reach a limit, beyond which is ever so slightly (or strongly) outside our comfort zone. And while I have long been a firm believer in the growth and transformation that comes from stepping outside one’s comfort zone, these days I’m exploring the edges. I am exploring the place just before I’ve crossed the line, perhaps in an effort to see if it’s totally necessary for me to push, push, push until I’m over the edge with nothing safe or familiar to cushion my fall should it happen. Trial by fire I guess. And that’s a lot of the way I’ve operated in my life. Jumping in – and disconnecting. Yup, that’s my clever nervous system at work. I take that step, push myself outside my comfort zone, and because it’s often scary out there, I check out, stop being present in my body and instead occupy the mental place that is ever so comfortable for me. Eventually, most times, I am able to come back, return to my body and resume the presence with which I am able to live my life when I recognize safety. But what if there’s a different way of doing it? What if I can stay with myself the whole time, instead of disconnecting and coming back? What greater depth would be possible if I didn’t have to take the time out to bring myself back into myself?

Because here’s the thing, while I will always place an enormous amount of value on the ways in which I’ve grown by crossing that line, I think the deeper change comes when we are able to stay with ourselves in these uncomfortable places. And I think that an inherent part of growing and evolving and transforming also means inhabiting yourself. Showing up for yourself over and over again. Trusting that no matter how uncomfortable or painful or grief-ridden or ecstatic or joyful a space may be, I’m not going anywhere. Developing that trust in oneself that comes from constancy. How much deeper the discoveries are able to integrate when we are present with ourselves – and isn’t that the point? To integrate our growth so that it becomes part of our very fabric, not dependent on an external influence.

A baby, as it’s learning to crawl will crawl away from a caregiver (parent, sibling, babysitter, etc), stop, turn around, check to make sure they’re still there, and then proceed on. Over and over again – testing the constancy, building the foundation of trust that there is a presence holding them, making sure they’re safe as they discover new movement. And so with exploring our edges: we find our edges and then check back in with ourselves to make sure we’re still present, and then return to the edge and see what happens next – all the while, checking back in, making sure we’re not going anywhere. But that means we have to find those edges, explore and be willing to go there, be willing to stay with that moment of anticipation, that moment when we could either step over or step back. And good lord, that’s hard.

If you choose to embark on this practice of finding the edges and hanging out there, let me throw in another piece – give yourself permission to step back. Geez. Seriously. Hang out for as long as it feels ok to hang out (find the edge within the edge), and then step back from the edge, take a deep breath, feel your feet beneath you, remember that you’re safe, remember that you have a choice in this. Always. You can choose to remain where you are, just as you can choose to explore the edges, and there’s no better than or worse than when it comes to those choices. Sometimes just knowing what those edges are is enough. And maybe if that’s enough right now and you just let that be there and hold gratitude for those edge, eventually, over time, you might find movement toward venturing out to them.

So, as I explore this in myself, in my own way, at my own pace (with a whole lot of backing the hell up) I’m discovering that in the process of staying with the edges, I find that they move, ever so slightly and every once in a while my edge is a little further away – my capacity has grown. And I rest into the growth, and then keep on keeping on, finding my new edge and hanging out there. Rinse. Repeat.

But, in this practice I’ve learned that nothing happens without gratitude. If I beat myself up for a limitation or an edge, all that serves to do is reinforce it. So to this (both in myself and you) I say: appreciate those edges – they have served brilliantly to protect you, helping you survive and function, given you a container in which to live and love and interact and engage all while maintaining a sense of safety. Thank them. And then ask yourself, what else is possible? Really. What else is possible? How can I do this differently? Give space for the edge to speak – the answer might surprise you. Or it might not. You might find you knew the answer all along.

 

 

Exploring rigidity January 28, 2012

Filed under: CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 11:39 am
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“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” – James Baldwin

This quote has resurfaced in my life after almost a year and it just so happens to jive beautifully with where my mind has been these days. So, I thought I’d bring it in again, revisiting the notion of nothing ever being fixed. That’s what happens when nothing is ever fixed, we get to revisit old places and see what’s changed.

Last week my yoga teacher asked, over and over, “Where is your rigidity?” The third time I was in a standing forward fold in a completely different position than I’d ever been in when approaching that pose, and initially, after cursing the universe, I responded in my head “It’s in my @#$#!% hamstrings!” But, instead of shouting that into her encouraging face, I breathed and sunk deeper into the pose and it was then that I understood what she meant.

Where is your rigidity? In that moment, my rigidity was around doing a pose in a different way. It was in the fact that I wanted to move in a different way than she was telling me, solely because that’s the way I’ve always done it. I was out of the groove that I’d so diligently created by executing the same motion over and over again. My rigidity was in the fact that I was so focused on the discomfort of trying this pose in a new way that I failed to recognize the depth and openness I was finding in places in myself that that pose usually never accessed.

Sometimes rigidity can show up in the form of pathologizing. The most clear definition of pathologizing is to “Regard or treat (someone or something) as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy.” And we do this all the time in our bodies and minds. We fixate on pain or patterns, feeling that it’s wrong that they exist. And we fixate on changing them, making them be something else, making them go away. And often in the process of them, we make ourselves wrong, for having or experiences that which we’re pathologizing. But here’s the thing. Those patterns are there for a reason, they are your system’s way of managing its experience, and they are, in essence, a brilliant mechanism – a learned behavior or pattern. And we may not like them, or want them there, but they served a purpose at one time. Maybe they no longer serve us and then we enter into the work of letting go. But that’s awfully challenging when we’re so fixated on changing them. That seems contradictory, I know. But, let me explain. When we fixate on something, we hold it in place. We focus our attention on it, we get myopic, and we take away any space that thing might need to shift into something else. Because here’s the thing, and I know it’s not the first time I’ve said this here, everything’s always changing, all the time. Even that which we’re pathologizing. And by fixating on it, we don’t let it change.

So, my curiosity these days is around the small ways that we can make space for those things we once pathologized. Give them a little bit of room in some way to do things differently, and see what happens. Be encouraging of their shift, instead of judgmental of the reasons they’re there

Listen, as a control freak I am well aware that this is a daunting task. The idea of stepping back and letting something unfold as it will, as it needs to, with no say on my part, it’s frankly a bit difficult for me to grasp sometimes. Particularly as a massage therapist, I’m trained to think that I need to do something to a muscle or a joint to effect some change. But CranioSacral is teaching me that in fact sometimes the most powerful doing comes in simply listening, supporting and trusting that the body knows exactly what it needs to do to move out of a pattern. My most powerful doing is in being present with the entire process. And I have to tell you, that is no easy task.

So, I return again to this question of rigidity. Is my rigidity in thinking that I need to do something, always? Is it in not feeling safe enough to relinquish my illusion of control? Is my rigidity fundamentally in not trusting the very system that I am in contact with – be it my own or someone else’s?

A very dear friend of mine once said to me, “Don’t pathologize your neuroses.” Let me tell you that in and of itself is a practice. But here’s the thing. All of those things that we pathologize, all of those things that we make wrong, we learned them – either consciously or unconsciously. And as such, we can learn something else, some other way of being, of coping, of managing, of surviving, of existing and expressing. It is absolutely possible. After all, you did it once before.

 

 
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