Of all the worries that clients bring with them into the therapy room, fear of judgment is one of the greatest. Judgment is defined as; “an opinion or conclusion.” It sounds like such a harmless, simple word, yet the act of judging holds enormous sway over our hearts and minds.
In the Greek myth, The Judgment of Paris, Zeus gives Paris, a mortal man, the task of deciding which of three goddesses (Hera, Athena, Aphrodite) is the fairest. Hera promises him wealth and power if he chooses her. Athena offers victory in battle, glory and wisdom. Aphrodite promises him true love from a beautiful woman. Blinded by his passion, Paris chooses Aphrodite’s offer and awards her the title of fairest. An angry Hera then tricks Paris by giving to him a “clone” of the real woman he is to marry, but Paris, still blind with his desire, does not even notice.
The myth makes a point of telling the reader that Paris is “blinded” by the light and radiance of the goddesses before he judges them. It is obvious that Paris’ judgment is solely about his own profit. Objectively, there was not a correct answer for who was most beautiful, but subjectively there was a “right” answer for Paris himself. In that moment, he made the conclusion that true love was better to have than wisdom, victory, wealth or power. Paris is so blinded by his own opinion and conclusion (his judgment), that he does not even realize that his new wife is a figment of his imagination.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches that judgment is a type of “labeling” events, others and ourselves that restricts our freedom and creates distress. Labeling something as “good,” “bad,” “ugly,” “pretty,” “worthy,” and “unworthy” creates rigidity and stuck-ness. Judgment creates distress because it puts us into boxes that are very difficult to get out of and it limits the possibilities in our lives.
Within the major religion’s doctrines, there can be found numerous passages warning about the act of judging. The Holy Bible reads; “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:12).”
Similarly, the Buddha said that humans make judgments in four ways, (1) according to outward appearance, (2) according to the opinion of others, (3) according to economic status and (4) according to reality. He too said, “Do not be a judge of others, do not judge others. Whoever judges others digs a pit for themselves (A. III, 351).
And finally, the Quran espouses that man is not fit to judge; “I am no bringer of new fangled doctrine among the apostles, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. God is the ONLY one who can judge humans (46:9).
Yet, what does it mean not to judge? How can we live in a world without opinions and conclusions? Aren’t we forming opinions and conclusions all of the time?
DBT teaches that one way out of judgment is to observe the facts that we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. You may notice that someone has arched eyebrows, curly brown hair and high cheekbones. All facts. It is when you label that person as “pretty” that you slip into the arena of judgment. Judgment creates distress because we begin to mistake it as truth. The phrase, “I feel sad” is very different from saying “I AM sad.” One is a fact (the feeling) and one is a judgment about our very character. It is much easier to move through feelings than it is to get unstuck from things we believe are true about ourselves.
Judgments only belong to the individual who has them. Remember, they are simply “opinions” not facts. Yet, I know of countless people who are distressed about other people’s judgments of them. When you allow others’ opinions to distress you, you are taking them on as you own. It is important to let go of your own judgments and also the judgments of others.
The first step is to notice your judgments. This week, observe your tendency to judge. Look for words and labels like, “fair,” “unfair,” “should,” “should not,” “right,” and “wrong.” Notice what events, people and attributes of yourself you tend to judge the most. Notice how attached you are to your judgments. Then ask yourself what it would be like to let go of some of those judgments. Practice observing and describing with facts instead of with judgments. Let your conclusions be open ended.
The other day I hiked up a small butte in the middle of town. It was a beautiful sunny day. The weather was comfortably warm, the grass gently blowing in the breeze. I lay down on a bench to take in the moment. A feeling of contentment washed over me. I realized that in that moment, I was at peace. I was content.
I was reminded of other times in my past when I had felt this same sense of peace and contentment. The memories that came to me were small snippets of time. I remembered the sound of church bells on a lazy summer afternoon, the smell of a BBQ going, a smooth blanket of snow shining in the sun, a moment of laughter with a friend.
I did not think of money or status or people’s recognition and approval of me. I realized that my moments of feeling most content were simple moments of time when I was fully present.
When we are asked what will make us happy, we come up with answers like; more money, a stable job, a spouse, having kids, owning a house, moving to a different place, getting more respect at work, etc. etc. We are always looking for contentment in things that we don’t yet have, things we think we lack, things just beyond reach. We don’t often realize that contentment is available to us at every moment, whoever we are, wherever we are and whatever situation we are in.
Some may say this isn’t possible, that you cannot find peace in any and every situation. Yet, isn’t it our perceptions that create the idea that something will bring us happiness? It is not a FACT that marriage or money or a “dream” job will bring happiness. Most of us find that out along the way, and yet we continue to believe that the next thing will gift us contentment. Our expectations and beliefs, not facts, create this illusion that we fall into over and over.
We can spend our entire lives falling into the hole of searching for contentment, or we can notice that happiness is not something that comes to us from the outside, but something that we find within. It is there for us, all of the time, in the beauty of the moment.
This week ask yourself where you expect contentment to come from? Where are you investing yourself to try and find happiness? What would shift if you were to look for contentment in the small moments of your life?
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
Limitation is defined as; a bound, a restriction. In our present day culture, we are faced with limitations all the time. In both our personal and professional worlds, we live in a maze of due dates, physical restrictions, rules, laws and unspoken boundaries. These limitations are sometimes imposed by us, but more often than not, they are imposed upon us by culture, history, religion, society, family and other institutions. Whether or not we agree with certain restrictions, there are sometimes grave consequences for trespassing or ignoring them. Limitations can serve to make us feel safe and ordered, but they can also make us feel suffocated, controlled and stressed.
Many times, we approach these limitations from opposite ends. Either we sit comfortably and complacently behind these restrictions, too afraid or too apathetic to question them, or else we blow through them with defiance and anger, usually reaping personal consequences and conflict.
The purpose of restrictions is to keep things ordered and effective for a determined outcome. Even our physical limitations make it possible for us to move with strength and speed. But is it possible that our limitations, self-imposed or not, can have a higher purpose of teaching us something? Of setting our spirits free?
Buddhists traditionally practice a form of self-discipline using established rules or precepts. Gaining mastery over oneself and one’s desires is seen as a step along the road to enlightenment, to freeing the self. Similarly, other religions such as Christianity and Islam have teachings centered around self-discipline. These restrictions are a means to perfecting the soul and becoming closer to Divinity.
In our daily lives, limitations and restrictions can cause us to feel insecure when we don’t meet them, suffocated when we feel pinned down by them and angry or helpless when we feel they are unjust or ineffective. They bring up raw emotions within us; material for self-awareness. Our relationship to restrictions is an indication as to what we are called to work on in our personal development.
In yoga, physical limitations often bring up emotional restrictions. Insecurity, frustration, anger, disappointment, shame. This is the material to be worked on in a yoga practice. Carefully, intentionally and kindly noticing these restrictions, exploring our “edges,” becoming curious and self aware of our own experience. Yoga teaches us to respect these edges, yet to explore them and possible move them slowly over time. It is only with complete awareness, patience and acceptance of our restrictions that we can learn to expand them.
This week ask yourself what restrictions you may be fighting in your life right now. What limitations are you being asked to explore and accept in order to do the higher work of moving your spirit?
The term Potential is defined as: capable of being or becoming; an ability that may or may not be developed.
Potential is an interesting and loaded word. In one sense, it is the space of opportunity. The opportunity for anything to happen, for anything to manifest. It is the precursor of something unknown and not yet formed. Like the churning of the clouds before a storm.
In Hinduism, the story of Samudra Manthan, (the churning of the ocean of milk), relates the act of the gods and demons churning the cosmos to attain the gift of immortality. The churning itself awakened a series of unforeseen events that had to be dealt with in the moment including poison that threatened to destroy everything. Commentary on this story often says that the churning of the cosmos is a symbol of the churning of our minds, our own consciousness.
The human consciousness is pregnant with so many things: thoughts, desires, perceptions, ideas, and beliefs all churning together, creating the potential for any number of outcomes or movements. Seen in this light, the churning of only one human mind is so immense, so cosmic. The potential for each of us is so vast. And the most amazing thing about this great potential is that it only exists in the moment. Just one moment.
Potential is also a space of opposites. Gods and demons colliding and moving together. Potential has no particular outcome. There is just as much space for something to be born as there is for something to die. To move or to remain still. The churning is both under and out of our control. This is not unlike Hope which can be defined as; to place trust or rely. Hope is used frequently throughout the Bible when referring to the human relationship with God. To hope is to relate directly with the Divine.
What escapes most of us is that potentiality and hope are not to be found in the future. You cannot have potential or hope if something has already happened. The power of this place is in the moment you are in. It is the power of the moment that forms what will happen next and not the other way around. Humans are often “living” in the future, wasting energy by projecting pictures of what has not even happened. Meanwhile, potential is brewing in the present time, even if we are too busy to notice.
Where is your hope? Is it in the future where it cannot move, or are you paying attention to the churning of the moment? This week think about what might shift for you if you could be completely present in this story of yours without attachment to the outcome. How would things be different for you if you created your life one moment at a time instead of trying to force it into the story you think you should have?
In Psychology and Religion, the word “grounding” is thrown around quite a bit. Therapists often use the term to refer to clients finding a sense of stability in order to do difficult inner work. Religious traditions may encourage participants to latch onto doctrine or spiritual ideas. Yet, the word “grounding” gives off the essence of connecting to the earth itself. Though pursuing a sense of self and spiritual beliefs can be an important part of one’s life journey, we are also all inevitably living a physical journey on this planet.
The earth is an important symbol in many religious and cultural traditions. In ancient Celtic, Greek, Indian and Egyptian lore, the earth is personified and seen as the source of energy and life. And it is. We don’t need even to read ancient stories to realize that the earth brings forth life and breaks it down in an on going cycle. From the earth we get food, shelter, water and air. We owe our existence and our survival to the earth itself. Yet, so often the earth is taken for granted. We look out to the heavens in a quest for spiritual transformation or deliverance, and forget about the vast expanse of energy and life that lies right beneath our feet.
In electrical engineering, grounding is vitally important. A connection to the earth itself turns a potentially lethal electric current into a useful source of energy. The earth can also be used as a conductor of that energy. Without grounding to the earth, there is no way to control or utilize the powerful electric forces.
In our lives, we have so many forces to contend with; relationships, emotions, thoughts and assumptions, expectations, beliefs and values. At times, these things get the best of us. We feel thrown into a tailspin of confusion and powerlessness. What we desperately seek is some form of stability, somewhere safe and sturdy to land.
Grounding to the earth means to make a commitment to be right here, right now. In this physical place, in this time. Not a few days ahead, not on a beach in our mind, but right here. Here with all of these things that we may or may not want. Here with uncomfortable emotions, here in this particular environment with these particular people. Here in this body as it is in this moment. There is power in this place of grounding, though it may not seem obvious. There is potential waiting. To tap into the earth means to tap into that great source of life and vitality that the ancients all wrote so passionately about.
This week, ask yourself if you are grounding to the earth in this point in time. What keeps you from being fully present in this place? What do you need in order to ground right now in your life? What can you let go of to begin to put down roots in your physical home?
It has been many weeks since my last post. Unexpected challenges came my way. Wrapped up in my struggle, this blog fell by the wayside. At first I felt guilty about abandoning something that meant so much to me, but I came to realize that this experience is a valuable life lesson about rejuvenating the spirit when it falls down.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
This is a quote that many of us can agree with, nodding our heads and making soft noises of understanding. Yet, when it comes down to facing our own disappointments, our flagging expectations and our dismembered dreams, we don’t seem very good at practicing it. It is sometimes easier to forgive others their foibles, than it is to be kind to ourselves.
St. Peter is referred to as the first “pope” of the Catholic Church. He was one of Jesus Christ’s twelve disciples and a leader in the early Christian church. In the book of Matthew from the Holy Bible, an interesting story is captured about St. Peter. In the last days of Jesus’ life, after he is arrested by the Romans, Peter denies his association with Jesus three separate times. The Bible says that after Peter denies Jesus for the third time, he weeps “bitterly.” I imagine that at that moment, Peter’s spirit has fallen down. He is in the space of struggle, of conflict, of confusion and doubt.
However, the more interesting piece of this story is that Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, yet chose to give Peter leadership over the church that would rise up after his crucifixion. This is a powerful message from one of the most revered spiritual leaders of all time. In a sense, Jesus is telling humankind that falling is inevitable, predictable and, well, nothing to stay groveling over. Falling is a part of our human experience.
Rejuvenating the spirit wouldn’t need to happen if we didn’t have times of struggle. I have written in earlier posts about the importance of dark times and conflict. Yet, the rising to begin again is also significant. Some of us may have fallen down a long time ago and thought we lacked the strength to get back up. Others have gotten back up so many times, just to fall again that they decide to stay down there. This week, ask yourself how much effort you are putting into pulling yourself up. What do you need to give to yourself to get the strength to go on? Forgiveness, kindness, boundaries, permission?
Falling is part of the human experience, but so is getting up again.
The Emerald Cockroach Wasp, featured on an episode of Radio Lab, is able to essentially turn a cockroach into a zombie by stinging it in the brain with her venom. Once stung, the cockroach is under the wasp’s control. It is no longer master of itself, no longer what it once was. The cockroach is at the mercy of the parasite.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Perfectionism and Anxiety can feel like parasites. Stress has shown again and again to be a leading cause of heart disease and other unpleasant physical ailments. There is no denying that these “disorders” and “problems” afflict many people and cause much damage. I see this every week in my counseling office. People worn down by worry, stress, and anxiety. I have even been that person. Feeling tired, scattered, confused and “not myself.”
What lies hidden behind these pervasive symptoms is sometimes difficult to uncover. Like a garden weed, stress has a sneaky way of winding itself around the flowers in our lives, the things that truly matter to us. Our thoughts, expectations and values become compromised. It is only by unraveling the weed from the flower that you can ensure a bed full of beautiful, life-giving growth.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps us identify the thoughts and expectations that lie at the heart of our responses. We must slow ourselves down to catch these racing revelations. They speed through our heads day in and day out, leaving ideas implanted in our beings, swaying our actions, causing emotions to well up and make us feel out of control. I call them the “speed demons.” How crafty are our thoughts. Silently and stealthily informing our world when we don’t even consciously grasp that they are there.
Yet, there is hope! We all have the ability to recognize their presence. If we slow ourselves down enough to practice getting to know them, we will begin to recognize these thoughts. We will begin to catch them like butterflies in a net. Examine them. Decide which ones to act on and let the others go. This is where our control as human beings lies. In the catching, examining and letting go. Our power lies in the ability to decide whether or not to act on the thoughts, expectations, perceptions and values that we find hanging around in our minds.
OCD, Perfectionism and Anxiety “trick” us into having unrealistic and rigid expectations for ourselves, others and the world around us. They keep us stuck in ineffective ways of thinking, caught up in the “shoulds” and “should nots.” They numb us from acting on our true values and desires. Like the zombie cockroach, we become lost to our true selves, restricted and controlled by our minds.
This week, ask yourself what distressing thoughts, expectations and perceptions seem to have a hold on you. Try to catch these thoughts as they come to you during the day. Become familiar with their presence. And, perhaps, choose to let go of them in the moment.
In the United States today, the majority of people polled identify themselves with a specific religious institution. Christianity, Buddhism and Islam are among the top three named. It’s relatively easy for most people to pinpoint values that these religious doctrines encompass: charity, forgiveness, love, compassion, etc. One might assume that people belonging to these religious communities would serve these values. Yet it’s just as probable that all of us, religious or not, are serving values we don’t even recognize.
Richard Naegle, a Jungian oriented psychologist, espouses that all of us serve something or someone. We bow down to ideas of who we are or what we want to be. We bow down to emotions, traumas, and ideals. We even bow down to the standards society has set for us. These “gods” are subtle. We probably don’t recognize how they influence us on a daily basis. We can be sure, however, that our reverence to them is affecting our own reality. As Naegle says, whatever we serve becomes our master.
This can be a hallowing revelation. It is discouraging to think our own blindness may have kept us in dark and unhappy places. Yet, it can also be a wake up call and an opportunity to realize just how powerful our willingness to live with our eyes wide open can be.
A Zen saying says: “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one.” This proverb is paralleled in other religious texts. The Bible reads, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” The Koran includes, “Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body.” Obviously mankind has recognized this polarization for some time as well as the pull to serve what will undoubtedly lead us astray.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the client is given the opportunity to clarify values and reflect on how decisions and behaviors she has engaged in have lined up with those values. She begins to discover what has kept her from living congruently with her beliefs and values and how she may have to change to accommodate them.
1. This week, examine your intrinsic values. What kind of person do you want to be in this world? How do you want to be in relationships?
2. Ask yourself what your most recent thoughts, behaviors and reactions reveal that you are serving? Do you make decisions based on your values, or are they made in fear, influenced by pride or guilt? Are you listening to yourself or just trying to placate the values of others?
3. What would have to change for you to live more in line with your values? What transformation would need to happen in your mind and heart in order to be who you want to be in this world? How can you begin to take control of making that happen?
In 1982, Julie Moss crossed the finish line at an Ironman Triathlon on her hands and knees. Only ½ mile to go, her legs gave out and she was unable to continue moving forward on her feet. She had already swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and run all but one half mile of a full marathon. In an interview on the NPR program Radiolab, Moss recalls that when she collapsed, a voice inside her told her to get up. She made a pact with herself in that moment to finish the race no matter what.
This story makes me wonder; what are we capable of if only we would believe in our ability to cross that finish line? Moss’s story reveals the inner struggle that all of us experience – the opposing voices within. One voice telling us to stop or to be cautious. The other voice telling us to keep going, to push ourselves. Signals from the body, the brain and the spirit do not always match up.
Depression can magnify this internal struggle. Part of you knows that you must engage yourself in life and wants to, while the other part of you feels the urge to isolate and dis-engage. Most of us despise this contradiction. We just want to feel better, to rid ourselves of the feelings and thoughts that seem to keep us immobile.
Julie Moss could have justified pulling out of the race when her legs gave way. After all, legs are somewhat essential when running a marathon. She could no longer control her leg muscles enough to finish standing up. Moss had to let go of the idea of finishing the race upright and find a new way to her goal, however untraditional. Although her body gave out and she faced the urge to quit, her determination won. She held a value and a goal so strong that it caused her to do the unthinkable.
Our values and beliefs do influence our actions and decisions. Countless studies reveal that belief alone can change moods, perceptions and body sensations or experiences. For good or bad, our beliefs are paramount to how our lives will play out. Instead of being victims of our experiences, we are sculptors of them. The question we must ask ourselves is, how willing are we to push through pain, ingrained patterns, strong urges and doubt to live out our values?
This week, take a look at your values. How do you want to be in the world and in relationships? What is it you want to be doing or how do you want to be acting to feel more authentic, more aligned with your values, desires and goals? Then ask yourself what is keeping you from living out those dreams. What pain, patterns, urges or contradictory thoughts and perceptions keep you buckled in front of the finish line? What do you need to push through them and live out your purpose?
Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) says that truly living is learning to live with your eyes wide open. Saying “yes” to life and to whatever life has brought you. Taking control by taking a good look at what is before you and inside of you.
Observing is one of the skills DBT helps people fine tune. It sounds easy, and in a way, it is a very simple skill. Yet, it can be difficult to practice. We are always observing. Some of us notice our outside world; colors of changing leaves, facial expressions, and birds in the trees. Some of us notice our inner world; thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Our attention is usually drawn to particular aspects of our experience. That leaves quite a bit to escape our notice.
We have a tendency to shy away from uncomfortable aspects of ourselves and our world. Someone who is good at observing her surroundings may be compensating for an unwillingness to observe her internal experience. On the other hand, there are those of us are who consumed with internal dialogue, to the extent that we hardly notice what happens around us.
The skill of observation requires us to slow down and take notice. External observation can help us escape the confines of our mind and our limited experience and allow us to enjoy the pleasures of our five senses. Internal observation can help us tune into ourselves to understand what we are truly feeling and thinking in a given moment. Observation has the power to help us become “unstuck” from distressing thoughts or worry, disengage from overpowering emotions, experience or notice other emotions and give us a different perspective on our situation.
1. Observe your surroundings. Use your five senses to truly see, hear, taste, smell and feel what is around you. Let go of thoughts so that the act of simply observing can take over. Feel the sun on your skin, watch the uncurling of the clouds, hear the quiet sounds of nature, smell the earth, taste the flavors of your food. You may find that basking in these simple things will allow you to release tension.
2. Observe your thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgment. With curiosity, stand back and “catch” thoughts as you would butterflies. Notice the constant movement of thought, the waves of emotion and the way they affect your body. Begin to notice the relationship between these three aspects of yourself.
3. Observe yourself. Use your second attention to “watch” yourself go about your day. Be curious about your movements, reactions and behavior. Notice how you react to your environment or the things that happen during the week. Study yourself.
“Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.” - George Gurdjieff
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.