Shame is Soul Destroying

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”
― Carl Gustav Jung
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I read the most amazing article/column and I want to share it with you all. It touched me deeply.
No matter how you look at it, shame is absolutely soul destroying!

The article is from The Cut – November 28th – Ask Polly

‘I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life’

It’s a long read, but well worth the time.

Hi, Polly,

I feel like a ghost. I’m a 35-year-old woman, and I have nothing to show for it. My 20s and early 30s have been a twisting crisscross of moves all over the West Coast, a couple of brief stints abroad, multiple jobs in a mediocre role with no real upward track. I was also the poster child for serial monogamy. My most hopeful and longest lasting relationship (three and a half years, whoopee) ended two years ago. We moved to a new town (my fourth new city), created a home together, and then nose-dived into a traumatic breakup that launched me to my fifth and current city and who-knows-what-number job.

For all these years of quick changes and rash decisions, which I once rationalized as adventurous, exploratory, and living an “original life,” I have nothing to show for it. I have no wealth, and I’m now saddled with enough debt from all of my moves, poor decisions, and lack of career drive that I may never be able to retire. I have no career milestones and don’t care for my line of work all that much anyway, but now it’s my lifeline, as I only have enough savings to buy a hotel room for two nights. I have no family nearby, no long-term relationship built on years of mutual growth and shared experiences, no children. While I make friends easily, I’ve left most of my friends behind in each city I’ve moved from while they’ve continued to grow deep roots: marriages, homeownership, career growth, community, families, children. I have a few close girlfriends, for which I am grateful, but life keeps getting busier and our conversations are now months apart. Most of my nights are spent alone with my cat (cue the cliché).

I used to consider myself creative — a good writer, poetic, passionate, curious. Now, after many years of demanding yet uninspiring jobs, multiple heartbreaks, move after move, financial woes, I’m quite frankly exhausted. I can barely remember to buy dish soap let alone contemplate humanity or be inspired by Anaïs Nin’s diaries. Honestly, I find artists offensive because I’m jealous and don’t understand how I landed this far away from myself.

Also, within the past year I’ve had a breast-cancer scare and required surgery on my uterus due to a fertility issue. On top of that, I’m 35 and every gyno and women’s-health website this side of the Mississippi is telling me my fertility is dropping faster than a piano falling out of the sky. Now I’m looking into freezing my eggs, adding to my never-ending financial burden, in hopes of possibly making something of this haunted house and having a family someday with a no-named man.

I’m trying, Polly. I am. I’m dating. I’m working out and working hard. Listening to music I enjoy and loving my cat. Calling my mom. Yet I truly feel like a ghost. No one knows who I am or where I’ve been. I haven’t kept a friend, lover, or foe around long enough to give anyone a chance. What’s the point? I don’t care for my job. I’m not building toward anything, and I don’t have the time or money to really invest in what I care about anyway at this point. On top of that, society is telling me my value as a woman is fading fast, my wrinkles require Botox (reference said poor finances), all the while my manager is asking for me to finish “that report by Monday.” Why bother?

My apathy is coming out in weird ways. I’m drinking too much, and when I do see my friends on occasion, I end up getting drunk and angry or sad or both and pushing them away. And with men I date, I feel pressure to make something of the relationship too soon (move in, get married, “I have to have kids in a couple of years”; fun times!). All the while still trying to be the sexpot 25-year-old I thought I was until what seemed like a moment ago.

I used to think I was the one who had it all figured out. Adventurous life in the city! Traveling the world! Making memories! Now I feel incredibly hollow. And foolish. How can I make a future for myself that I can get excited about out of these wasted years? What reserves or identity can I draw from when I feel like I’ve accrued nothing up to this point with my life choices?

Haunted

Dear Haunted,

Art isn’t something you need an outside license or a paycheck to pursue. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of adding up what you feel and where you’ve been and what you fear and what you can imagine. It’s a way of seeing your life through a lens that makes everything — good and bad, confusing and clarifying, uplifting and depressing — valuable.

Shame is the opposite of art. When you live inside of your shame, everything you see is inadequate and embarrassing. A lifetime of traveling and having adventures and not being tethered to long-term commitments looks empty and pathetic and foolish, through the lens of shame. You haven’t found a partner. Your face is aging. Your body will only grow weaker. Your mind is less elastic. Your time is running out. Shame turns every emotion into the manifestation of some personality flaw, every casual choice into a giant mistake, every small blunder into a moral failure. Shame means that you’re damned and you’ve accomplished nothing and it’s all downhill from here.

You need to discard some of this shame you’re carrying around all the time. But even if you can’t cast off your shame that quickly, through the lens of art, shame becomes valuable. When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it, you can see the true texture of the day and the richness of the moment, with all of its flaws. You can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it. When you face your shame with an open heart, you’re on a path to art, on a path to finding joy and misery and fear and hope in the folds of your day. Even as your job is slow and dull and pointless, even as your afternoons alone feel treacherous and daunting, you can train your eyes on the low-hanging clouds until a tiny bit of sunlight filters through. You are alive and you will probably be alive for many decades to come. The numbers on your credit-card statements can feel harrowing, but you can take that feeling and keep it company instead of letting it eat you alive. You can walk to the corner store to buy a newspaper and pull out the weekend calendar section and circle something, and make a commitment to do that one thing. You can build a new kind of existence, one that feels small and flawed and honest, but each day you accumulate a kind of treasure that doesn’t disappear. Because instead of running away from the truth, you welcome it in. You don’t treat what you have as pointless. You work with what you have.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not easy for anyone, no matter how many deep roots they might’ve nurtured. I find it very hard, even now, to do the hard things that I need to do in order to feel good. I slip into bad habits easily, without noticing, and my worldview suffers for it. I know exactly which good practices will fuel me and make me wake up to the world around me. I know that, when I’m feeling ashamed and sick inside, I have to stand outside of that feeling and examine it and treat it like a fascinating artifact, something useful, something to build from, something to treasure, even.

Let me be more concrete: Promoting a book — which is what I’ve been doing since my new book came out last month — is fun and exciting. You get to travel and meet new people. But there are aspects of it that feel a little corrosive. Too much focus on the self, on presentation, on sales numbers, on whether or not your work matters. Right now I’m reading the novel Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, and I love the way it captures exactly how insecure writers can be, and how much the world will magically transform around them in order to manifest that insecurity and then torture them with it. But Less is also a story about shame. When you carry around a suspicion that there’s something sort of embarrassing or pathetic about you, you find ways to project that shame onto completely innocuous things. You find ways to tell yourself that everyone is laughing at you behind your back somewhere, possibly at a party where they are serving beautiful tasty drinks but you weren’t invited. You’re too old now. You’re no longer exciting or important. You don’t matter. You never really did.

Shame creates imaginary worlds inside your head. This haunted house you’re creating is forged from your shame. No one else can see it, so you keep trying to describe it to them. You find ways to say, “You don’t want any part of this mess. I’m mediocre, aging rapidly, and poor. Do yourself a favor and leave me behind.” You want to be left behind, though. That way, no one bears witness to what you’ve become.

It’s time to come out of hiding. It’s time to step into the light and be seen, shame and wrinkles and failures and fears and all.

I’ve had to step into the light myself lately. I’ve had to admit that I was building a new haunted house out of my imagination. But my mistakes and experiences and choices brought me to this moment. They might make me sad or embarrassed or regretful, but they’re precious because they give this day its unique mood. When I drag them into the light, I feel better. This is where I can begin. Today, I have countless chances to reinvent and rework and reorder myself and my experience. You do, too. I can figure out some way to make one true connection, to do one hard thing, to savor one moment. So can you.

I know you’re trying. I know you’re working hard, and you’re tired. You don’t like your job, but you don’t feel like you can quit. You wish you hadn’t lived the way you’ve lived. You wish you’d made closer friends and built more lasting relationships and stayed in one place. You feel like you have very little time left. And maybe you don’t even care that much about the time you have left, right now.

But your concept of yourself makes no sense. You got it from a rom-com. Age 35 is not an expiration date on your beauty or your worth. It doesn’t matter if every single human alive believes this. It’s your job to cast this notion out forever. I’m 48 years old and I’m determined not to tell a story about myself that started in some beauty-product boardroom, among unimaginative corporate marketing professionals. I fail at this quest often, but I’m still determined. I’m going to choose to embrace narratives that make me feel more alive and able to contribute whatever twisted crafts I can to this world, while I can.

If you want to build a life with a partner, and have a more satisfying career, and maybe have children, you need to treat yourself like a treasured child starting today. If you had a daughter who was 35 years old and felt like all of her traveling and moving was a giant mistake that embodied everything BAD and shortsighted about her, what would you tell her? You’d tell her she was wrong. You’d say, “Your life is just beginning!”

Learn to treat yourself the way a loving older parent would. Tell yourself: This reckoning serves a purpose. Your traveling served a purpose. Your moving served a purpose. You’re sitting on a pile of gold that you earned through your own hard work, you just can’t see it yet. You can’t see it because you’re blinded by your shame.

It’s okay to be in debt and worried. It’s okay to feel lonely and lost. It’s okay to feel tired of trying. It’s okay to want more and wonder how to get it. You’re just a human, this is how we feel a lot. It’s not irregular or aberrant to feel despair. This is part of survival. Your shame is forming your despair into a merciless story about your worth. Don’t let it do that. Build something else from your shame instead.

What will you build? Only you know that. What is shame worth? You’ll find out once you start digging in.

I’ll start for you. My shame is enormous: I keep seeing that lately. It keeps me online, interacting with ghosts, making meaning out of my pointless little broadcasts and pronouncements. It keeps me scanning the horizons for improvements. My shame keeps me fixated on novelties, on the future, on some exciting version of me that’s only a purchase or a breakthrough away. “You can be better than this,” my shame whispers in my ear. “You need to try harder. You need to hide the scary things you carry around. You need to act like you’ve arrived, even though you’re so inadequate and broken that you never will.”

When I’m hiding from my shame and also viewing my life through the lens of that shame, I get fixated on WHAT NEEDS FIXING. But nothing needs fixing, actually. I need to come back to reality and live there instead. Living in reality means becoming a scientist of shame. It’s an investigation. I can look at my shame, consider it, lament it, celebrate it, treasure it — how it changes the atmospheric pressure, how it makes it possible for me to reach out, to other people, in the hopes of making some connection, how it opens my eyes to the beautiful little awkward minutes of this day. My shame is the fuel that keeps me writing. My shame is the fuel that makes me exercise. My shame gives me a lens for understanding my husband and my kids. My shame makes my work possible. My shame — when I invite it in and forgive it — builds my empathy for others.

Treat yourself well and look closely at your shame. Are you supposed to stay in a job you hate as punishment for your debts? What if you ate baked potatoes and beans and rice for a full year and tried out some new career paths? What if you reached out to other people, and friends, and family, and let your shame into the room with you? What if you simply experimented with being who you are, out in the open, even as that feels difficult and awkward and sad?

What if you just decided that you’re an artist, today, right now? You’re sensitive and erratic, maybe. You’re maudlin and also expansive. What would it look like to own that identity, as a means of making art, sure, but also as a means of owning your FULL SELF? You wouldn’t feel as angry at other artists. You would recognize them as kindred spirits. You might notice how your shame matches theirs, and fuels all of you. You might feel proud of your small creations and you might start to see how every single thing you’ve done, every place you’ve been, every town you’ve lived in and left, every friend you’ve gotten to know and then forgotten, they all add up to a giant pile of treasure.

You are 95 years old, looking back at your 35-year-old self, and this is what you see: a young woman, so young, so disappointed, even though everything is about to get really good. She doesn’t see how much she’s accomplished, how much she’s learned, how many new joys await her. She doesn’t know how strong she is. She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.

Speaking of which, I went to go visit that 93-year-old woman I met on the plane, the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. She had told me her birthday was coming up, so I brought her a birthday card.

But it was difficult. It made me feel dumb to show up at her house with a card. I felt embarrassed for some reason. I even felt a little stupid calling her earlier today, asking if she needed anything. I don’t have a ton of free time. I have a long list of things I should be doing. It feels dopey to call someone new, someone who is much older and probably has other things to do.

But this woman, I like her a lot. She is extremely interesting. She tells long-winded, wild stories. She plays poker and has a lot of friends. She even sang me a song that she wrote in 1968. She grew up during the Prohibition, motherfuckers. She’s had a lot of experiences and she’s made a lot of mistakes, and she doesn’t mind talking about them. She’s a very honest person.

Before I left, she gave me a porcelain cat with a grumpy expression on its face that was sitting outside, covered in dust. She’s getting rid of some of her old things, she said. I’d be doing her a favor by taking it. “I don’t need anything from you, trust me,” I said. “I just like your company.” “Take the cat anyway,” she said.

As I opened the front door, I turned around and told her how nice it was, talking to her. She smiled. “You’re a human being,” she said. “A real human being.”

“I am,” I said. “I wasn’t a few years ago. But I am now.”

All you have to be is a human being, Haunted. That’s success. When you’re a human being, life feels satisfying. Everything adds up. Every little thing matters. Look at what you have. This is where it all begins. All you have to do is open your eyes.

Polly

I’ll close with another wonderful talk by Brené Brown – Listening to Shame

I’d love to hear what you thought about the article.
And as always, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it.

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The Power of Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.” 
— Brené Brown

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Pssst – I want to let you in on a secret . . . I’m terrified!

As I was sitting down to write this article, I thought of a few topics: ‘Gratitude for Thanksgiving’ and ‘Joy for Christmas’ and ‘Happiness for the Holidays’ – but what I was honestly thinking is “What the hell do you have to say that is special Patti? It’s all been said before and you are not adding anything special to this world!” I froze after I sat down and decided I’d just look at Facebook on my phone instead of write . . . which of course made me feel worse – because on FB most people look like they have everything is under control . . .

I started wondering where these insecurities came from. My first thought was my mother, a painfully depressed alcoholic. But to be fair, she loved me and encouraged me when I was young. Then I thought about my dad, a ping pong ball of rage and Peter Pan never grow up energy; but actually much of the time, he encouraged me to be audacious and live big.

Yes, both my parents added to this negative messaging that I still carry, but it is absolutely added to and encouraged by our culture. We are so scared of getting cut down if we stand out, or trolled if we are seen saying much of anything online. Perhaps, as Marianne Williamson so eloquently puts it, my deepest fear is my own power.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

* Please note, that that feels rather cringe-worthy to say that I am afraid of my own power. My head is making serious fun of me at the moment . . . But I persist . . .

I have pursued a career of being vulnerable in front of others. I write blog posts and articles that people can read and comment on; I’ve written a book that is subject to people reviewing and saying mean things about; I put myself out there vulnerably. And it just so happens that a new study suggests that we judge ourselves more harshly than others do when we put ourselves out there, so maybe there is validity in my fear.

Professor and author Brené Brown has studied and written about vulnerability in depth:

“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we are afraid to let them see it in us,” she writes. “Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.”

In a recent Greater Good article, this phenomenon was explored:

“Participants in a study imagined either themselves or someone else in different vulnerable situations: confessing romantic feelings for a best friend, admitting a costly mistake at work, asking for help from a former boss, or baring their imperfect bodies at a swimming pool. Then, they rated how vulnerable the situation was, and how they evaluated that vulnerability—as an act of strength or weakness, something desirable or something to be avoided.”

They describe as Vulnerability being a “beautiful mess.” Indeed vulnerability comes with some risks, we may be laughed at, made fun of and trolled; but there are rewards as well: We may inspire someone and touch someone’s heart, and ultimately find a beautiful sense of belonging. The research suggests that we may be overestimating the risks and underestimating the benefits.

“Showing vulnerability might sometimes feel more like weakness from the inside…[but] to others, these acts might look more like courage from the outside,” the researchers write. “It might, indeed, be beneficial to try to overcome one’s fears and to choose to see the beauty in the mess of vulnerable situations.”

One article suggests 7 benefits of vulnerability:
1. You may learn to appreciate the quirks that make you unique.
Being vulnerable may help you embrace all of you, all the things that make you special.

2. You may make peace with troubling memories from your past.
Being vulnerable may help you get rid of some pent-up baggage that bothers you. While it isn’t easy to deal with painful memories, it is better to confront your past than it is to hide from it.

3. You may attract the right kind of people into your life.
Being vulnerable may help you understand what types of people you can most relate to and which ones to avoid.

4. You may find it easier to empathize with the struggles of others.
Being vulnerable can help you develop empathy for others.

5. You might earn the trust of people at work.
Being vulnerable might help you grow closer to the people in your workplace.

6. You may strengthen your bond with your romantic partner.
Being vulnerable will probably help you bond with the person you love most.

7. You will humanize yourself in the eyes of others.
Being vulnerable will help you demonstrate that you are an approachable person. While it isn’t easy to find the courage to reveal our true nature, there is no better way be seen as human and open.

So as I sit down to write this article and hope that no one rolls their eyes at me and tells me that the world would be a better place if I would just shut up, I remind myself of Brené Brown’s words:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

To close, I want to share a great video of Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability. It’s well worth the watch if you haven’t seen it yet. And worth a re-watch if you’ve already seen it.

I’d love to hear about how you embrace vulnerability in your life.
And as always, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it.

May’s News

“Within all of us is a divine capacity to manifest and attract all that we need and desire.”
– Wayne Dyer 

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In case you missed our May Newsletter . . .

How Can You Manifest Change in Your Life?

… It’s easier than you imagine …


I receive lots of inquiries from people asking how I got my book published.  I usually respond glibly, “Tenacity!” And that was certainly one aspect of the process.

But the truth is that I practiced what I preached in my book and focused a lot of energy and belief on the energy of getting my book out there. In my opinion, this is how one sets out to manifest what they are focusing on. I explored this in a recent article on Thrive Global.

I believe, after reading books by Deepak Chopra and a myriad of other authors, that everything is energy. And that belief shapes everything else. Each energy has a specific vibration, as Esther Hicks/Abraham explains. And we must be “on the same frequency,” to use a common metaphor, to be in alignment. Once this alignment is met, things start to happen. If the vibration is high, as in joy and gratitude, you start experiencing more joy and gratitude, and more things that bring you joy and gratitude start to come your way.

The trick is to start feeling that joy and gratitude now. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but honestly it is joy and gratitude that bring more joy and gratitude.

My approach: act as if you already have your dream. Look for the good in things you experience, try to live in joy as much as possible. Start every day with gratitude. Before you even get out of bed, focus on what you are grateful for. Choose three things every morning. Write them down in a journal if you have the time and the space. If that feels too hard, then just say it in your mind: feel the gratitude of having a warm bed, of knowing you can take a hot shower, of having food in your fridge. Focus your gratitude on what you already have in your life; this will impact your entire day.

As you think about that big goal, act as if it is already yours. Be in your life as if that goal is already there. Feel the joy of it.

After all, ultimately aren’t we all searching for more joy?

If you want to read more about this, check out the whole article on my blog.

PS: For those of you who may still be wondering about the perfect gift for Mother’s Day, or for your mother any day … look no further!  If your own mother or another mother you love likes Julia Cameron, Brené Brown or Annie Lamott (or all three), then This Way Up is a great gift!
Buy Your Mother’s Gift Here

 

Upcoming Summit: You’re Invited!

Reinventing You Summit

This summit will be live May 21 to May 31.  I’m so excited to share this summit with you!  The summit is hosted by my friend Naomi Sodomin. Naomi is the international best-selling author of Embrace the Mirror: Vision of Abundance and a Stronger You. And an all around inspirational woman.

 

If the path you’re on right now doesn’t light you up … if it doesn’t make you love your life, then it’s simple: you have to change it. Why wait to start a new journey, when the opportunity to begin that journey is right here? Join me and 20 other experts for the Reinventing You summit.

Register Today!

This Way Up Will Soon Be an Audio Book!

This Way Up is being made into an audio book! (I know, I know, I’ve been saying this for months! But we are in the final stages now … so close!) When it is finally ready, it will be available on my Amazon page and I will send a special link for the book in my newsletter. I can’t wait to share this new version of the book with you!

Buy the Book!

“Author Patti Clark is a cross between Elizabeth Gilbert

and Julia Cameron.”

This Way Up is a story of healing for women who yearn to lead a fuller life, accompanied by a workbook to help readers work through personal challenges, discover new inspiration, and harness their creative power. . .

Women spend so much of life nurturing and giving to others that when they find themselves alone—because of an empty nest, the end of a marriage, or the death of a partner—they often struggle with feeling purposeless. This Way Up provides a step-by-step way out of this sense of loss and into a life filled with enthusiasm, creativity, and joy.

 

Buy Online

Parting Words

“Release any expectations you may have of how you think your dreams will come true but by all means, with every fiber of your being, expect that they will, as you busy yourself enjoying who and where you already are.”

~ Mike Dooley

Thank you for being part of this movement. Watch this space for more in the months ahead.

What Makes You Happy?

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
– Omar Khayyam 

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What makes you happy?  Simple question, but one that is worth thinking about.  What makes you happy in this moment, for as Omar Khayyam declares, this moment is your life.  At the moment I am smiling and feeling happy.  The sun is shining, the view from my window where I sit writing is beautiful, and I love to write. So it’s easy to be happy in this moment.
What makes me happy in that larger sense, well that’s pretty easy for me too.  My sons.  I only have to think of my two sons, and a smile spreads across my face.  They are on the other side of the Earth from me at the moment, and that tugs at my heart and tempers my happiness a bit.  But nothing can take away the joy that those two amazing young men bring.  They make my heart sing . . .  in loud operatic ways!
Professionally I have a lot to make me happy.  Today I saw people who like books by Julia Cameron, Brené Brown and Anne Lamott also like my book, This Way Up.  That makes me really happy. What an affirmation!
This gives me a real feeling of accomplishment and achievement, which is one of the places happiness sits.
“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”
– Franklin D Roosevelt
It was my great pleasure to be interviewed on the topic of happiness recently by Sarah Jordan.

We talked about an array of topics but really focused on happiness..what it is, the benefits, and how we tend to block it.
I’ll close this post with a wonderful Ted Talk that has been around for awhile. Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff looks at happiness — the ways we try to achieve and increase it, the way it’s untethered to our real circumstances, and its surprising effect on our bodies. It’s interesting and informative and well worth the watch.

I’d love to hear what makes you happy.  What are you happy for in this moment? What brings you happiness in your life?
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Practicing Conscious Gratitude

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” 
― David Steindl-Rast

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In the Muppets’ Christmas Carol Movie, Kermit sings: “Tis the season to be jolly and joyous” . . . But what if you’re not feeling overly joyous? As we enter the holiday season this year, many people are feeling less than joyful. The political scene is grim and there is a lot to feel anxious and unhappy about. And for many, the idea of spending more time with family during the holidays does not fill the heart with glee. How you feel is your choice, daily. But if you want to feel more joy, not only this holiday season, but in general, there is an answer.

Science tells us that happiness and joy are things we can cultivate. Thanks to the advent of fMRI machines (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we can now watch our brains in real time and see which areas of the brain light up when we’re angry, frustrated, or joyful, and we can also watch the brain change depending on what we focus on. The idea that our brain architecture can change has been termed “neuroplasticity.”

We can literally rewire the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. This means we can create new neural pathways that lead us to compassion, gratitude, and joy instead of anxiety, fear, and anger. We can reprogram our brains’ automatic response with a conscious effort to build new pathways.

 

In a study done by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Neural Correlates of Gratitude, it was found that gratitude can be a natural antidepressant. When we consciously focus on what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated; when activated, an increase of dopamine and serotonin is produced, which is similar to how many antidepressants work.

Building new neural pathways may not come easily at first. A good analogy is bushwhacking through a jungle. Imagine trying to walk through a jungle in a dense rain forest. It requires a machete every step of the way to clear the path the first time through. After a few more times, you might lay down some stones to keep the path clear and eventually the path becomes a road and soon it becomes easily travelled. As you walk the path more and more, you continue to reinforce it and make it even stronger. Eventually, this new neural pathway becomes a habit.

To add to the strengthening of some pathways, our brain also has a way to ‘prune’ the pathways used less often. Scientists call this “use-dependent cortical reorganization,” meaning that we strengthen whichever neural pathways we use most often, and lose the ones we use the least. Hebb’s Lawstates “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

                    Neurons that fire together, wire together

 

So how do we do this? How do we create these new neural pathways and start to rewire our brain towards happiness, compassion, and joy? Many studieshave shown that cultivating gratitude, or practicing Conscious Gratitude, is the most powerful way to start building new pathways.

Seth Godin, best selling author, recently stated in an interview: “I think that gratitude is a profound choice. It is not just something that some people do. There is a way to look at life as either “have to” or a “get to”. There are all these things in life we could do because we have to do them, or there are things in life we do because we get to do them.”

Godin goes on to explain that this has nothing to do with the truth of what is going on in the world around you. It has to do with our narrative about what is going on.

Living life knowing you “get to” do something is better than constantly feeling like you have to. Godin poses the question: “What is the opposite of gratitude?” And he believes the opposite of gratitude is entitlement. “People who believe they are entitled to something, walk around expecting that the world owes them something, whereas the people who are grateful for something are eager to share that gratitude with others, and that lines up exactly with “have to” and “get to.”

So if we agree that being grateful can lead to joy, then how can we start feeling more grateful?

“Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted. ” ― David Steindl-Rast,

David Steindl-Rast, the highly-respected Benedictine monk, author and spiritual leader, explains his methodology for staying in a gratitude mindset in Anatomy of Gratitude:

“There is a very simple kind of methodology to it: stop, look, go. Most of us are caught up in schedules, and deadlines, and rushing around. And so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all. And we can’t even appreciate the opportunity that is given to us because we rush by. So stopping is the first thing … and finding something in that moment … I don’t speak of this moment as a ‘gift’, because you cannot be grateful for everything. You can’t be grateful for war, violence, domestic violence, or sickness, things like that. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful. But in every moment, you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience. So opportunity is really the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but yes you can be grateful in every moment.”

Seth Godin believes that acting “as if” is underrated. “If you start acting as if you are grateful, you start feeling more grateful and you will become more grateful.”

Here are some things you can do right now to start practicing Conscious Gratitude:

1. Choose a time and focus on gratitude

Choose a specific time everyday where you will stop for a moment and focus on what you are grateful for in that particular moment.
I use 11:11. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every day at 11:11. I stop whatever I’m doing (within reason- if I’m driving on a highway obviously I don’t stop) and I silently focus on what I am grateful for in that moment. Even if I’m stuck in traffic, I can be grateful for my car or a good sound system or enough money for gas to get me where I am going.

2. First thing in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, be grateful

Before you hop out of bed in the morning, take 30 seconds, (it really does not take more than that) to think about 3 things you are grateful for. This can be done silently in your head. Or better yet, if you have a partner that you share your bed with, ask each other to list those 3 things. It can be as simple as gratitude for a comfortable bed, a warm house, and a good nights sleep. It’s been shown that starting your day in gratitude positively impacts you for the rest of the day.

3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Choose a journal that you like the feel and the look of, and make sure that it is used solely for writing about things your are grateful for. How you write this is up to you; it can be as simple as list making. I like using colorful pens playing in my journal, but use what ever works for you. Make it a routine, try to write in it daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

4. Start new traditions in your family — like gratitude at meals

This may feel uncomfortable at first; but with time, the practice of going around the table and saying one thing you are grateful for that happened that day, can become a cherished family tradition. It’s a great conversation starter and a wonderful way to lift the energy at any meal time. Another tradition can be saying one thing you are grateful for before going off to sleep. If you have children, it is a wonderful way to end the day just before they go to sleep. Another tradition to reinforce gratitude in relationships is texting to a loved one in the middle of the day, one thing you appreciate about them. This works well with teens and couples with busy schedules.

So this holiday season, if you are hoping to embody Kermit’s words . . .

Tis the season to be jolly and joyous
With a burst of pleasure, we feel it arrive
Tis the season when the saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive

. . . You can start by practicing gratitude consciously today. And if that doesn’t come naturally, start by ‘acting as if’ you are grateful. And pretty soon, what was once an act will become a habit.

 

I’ll close with a great interview with Brené Brown talking about Active Gratitude.

 

I’d love to hear how you practice conscious gratitude.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Healing Shame and Finding Well-Being

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

― Brené Brown

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My reaction was similar to many other people I know when I first saw the hash tag ‘MeToo’ on twitter and on Facebook. I thought ‘Oh another hash tag on social media . . . Ho hum.’ But then in less than an hour, my wall was full of #MeToo from female friends on Facebook. Little did I know at that point how much Actress Alyssa Milano’s post would impact me personally. So personally in fact that I decided I had to get public with it on Thrive.

Of course, what we now know is that Tarana Burke, a native of Harlem, New York, was the original creator of the Me Too movement over a decade ago, before hash tags and social media. But it was Milano’s post, on October 16th that impacted me.

When I saw the original post, I felt vaguely uncomfortable, but ignored it. It wasn’t even when I saw my wall flooded with #MeToo that I really understood it’s impact. It was only later, over coffee with a friend, that it hit me, the full magnitude of how this related to me personally.

What #MeToo did, was to open up a huge, previously taboo, conversation with other women. Looking back at myself in my 20s, I was a ‘party girl’ and a bartender. I had a lifestyle that ‘invited’ that kind of behavior. I had convinced myself that I had deserved and been ‘responsible for’ the intimidation and harassment that I experienced.

Early in my own personal recovery process, I took full responsibility for my actions and my past behavior . . . full and total responsibility. And thus the shame lived on. I first read about this topic in John Bradshaw’s  ‘Healing the Shame that Binds You.’ Yes I read the book and yes I talked about the concept. But still, said the little voice in my head, if you hadn’t been that drunk, if you hadn’t put yourself in that situation… I still believed that I was responsible for the treatment on some level because of my own behavior.

What I discovered through conversations with other women is that there are a lot of us who still blame ourselves for what happened to us. “If I hadn’t been that drunk” and “If I had been wearing a bra” and “If I hadn’t been so stoned” then that wouldn’t have happened. And most of us have kept that bottled up inside of us, continuing to blame ourselves for our own ‘reprehensible behavior.’

This campaign has opened up the conversation, opened up the willingness to look at the behavior, not with shame, but with a desire to share the story. We are comparing notes and listening, and we are realizing that we are not alone.

There are so many layers to this problem. Looking at the culture of misogyny and who is in the position of power that enables this to happen. I’m aware of this and of course we still have so far to go. But today, I simply want to express gratitude, gratitude that even after so many years of recovery and therapy, these conversations have helped to heal a part of me that remained buried for over thirty years. I am writing now to say thank you for what was not just another ‘social media craze’ but instead was a catalyst to heal. Healing through deep and nourishing conversations with other women, initiated by a simple comment, ‘Me Too.’

I’ll close with a clip from John Bradshaw

 

 

I’d love to hear how the #MeToo campaign impacted you, or how shame itself has impacted your life.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Our Need for Connection

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. ”

– Herman Melville


As human beings we need connection. I believe our deepest need is to belong.

But to have true deep connection, Brene Brown explains that we need authenticity and vulnerability.  She explains that we need:

Courage – to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

Compassion – to be kind to yourself first and then to others.

Connection – as a result of authenticity, letting go of who we thought we should be in order to be who we are.

http://www.brenebrown.com/

In the following TED Talk, Brene Brown beautifully explains that we need to be vulnerable to have true connection.  We need  to let ourselves be seen as we really are; we need to love with our whole hearts even when it is hard; we need to practice gratitude and joy even when it is not easy; and finally each one of us needs to know, on that deepest level that I AM ENOUGH!

I hope you can take the time to watch Brene Brown in the wonderful video, it is uplifting and enlightening.

 

Please let me know your thoughts on this TED Talk video, and any stories you have about vulnerability and connection.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.