my space tracker

Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Crash - Could Have Been Worse Though (and the power of words)

My friend K (yes it was my friend and not me!) was in car accident coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel last week.  For those of you not familiar with the traffic spillage out of Manhattan into New Jersey, I'll say this: at certain hours its not so merge out of the tunnels, up the hill, around the bend and more merging for a mile or so until you have to decide which direction in New Jersey you want to go - Turnpike, or west, local or north - there are lots of signs, lots of lanes, and not a real heads up as to which sign matches which lane.    As often happens in New Jersey, by the time you see the sign - it's often too late to get into the correct lane.

So coming out of the tunnel K was driving beside but behind an eighteen wheeler with an out of state (out of area) license plate.  And somehow she was in his blind spot and he saw the sign he needed and the exit sneaking right up and he slid over into her lane and into her van  - and crash.

And it wasn't so bad - given the fast flow of traffic, the confusion, the hills and the bends and the rush - it's a miracle no one was hurt.  So here's the heart of the story:

K stayed in her car, but the truck driver got out and boy was he mad.  He was red; he was yelling, cursing and coming at her.  She had kids in her car.  Everyone was okay, but she was shaken from the bump - even though it wasn't huge - still.

So she rolled her window down and while he was yelling about where she came from and where she should go - she said "Are you okay?" and then "Are you hurt?"  And he sort of stopped his tirade for a second.  And then she smiled at him and said "Really, are you alright?"  And then he paused again and said, "Yeah, yeah, I think so."  And then, "Are you?"  And then he looked in the van.  And he said, "The kids okay?"  And she said, "Yes, a little shaky, but okay."

"I didn't see you," He said.  "I'm not from around here.  It's so confusing."
"I know," She said. "It's difficult, even for locals."

By the time the cops came, they were friends.

And you know, it happens, that some of us are quick to anger -especially given the circumstances, the frustration, we all have our moments.  (And yes, when those moments are the norm, and they effect those around us, we should probably tend to it).

It's a tall order to respond the way K did, especially in the moment.  But that's K.  She has slowed herself down over the years, and somehow sensed that there was a frustrated person inside, who could use a little help, even though he was not sounding so good.  She saw he needed help calming down, and she had the presence of mind and the words to do it.

I also know that when we are dealing with our own built up resentment or frustration or hurt, its hard to pause, to be curious, to help someone calm down and to find the person inside, behind the yelling, or the ignoring or the withdrawing.   But it is amazing what the right words can do.  That's all.  Just saying.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Changing the Direction of Your Inner World - Thank You

It's not that we don't want to change things in our outer world - or in the world in general.  There are usually always things that could be better, sweeter, easier in our relationships and our lives.  And certainly in the world around us.  There is always a need for growth and most often, a struggle to get there.

What comes up here in the office a lot is how changing the direction of our inner world can not only bring us more ease, more clarity, more satisfaction, but it is also a way of being of service to the world around us.  It's a win win.

So it seems that one good way to change the wind and sail in a different direction both internally and externally is by upping the use of gratitude.  Yes, we know that focusing on what we "yes" have can offset our pain a bit and help us not feel so deprived and stuck.  We know that it does not erase our hurts, but it can pave the way to new thoughts and better feelings. But...

Several new studies out are now confirming that actually saying "Thank You" to others - even - and maybe especially for the "little" things - like taking out the garbage, holding the door open, making dinner, remembering to call can make a big impact.  Seems like the words themselves make a difference.  In the worthy discussion of whether we should act ourselves into thinking or think ourselves into action in order to feel better and have better, saying thank you is on the simple side.

Apparently, saying thank you brings in more money, improves work performance, improves cooperation, brings reciprocity, and creates good feelings in both the speaker and the receiver.  We know this, but now more science is backing us up and common sense is not so common so we have to keep saying it.

It's not always easy of course.  If there is a brick wall of resentment or old hurts or disappointments between you and the world or you and a particular person, it's harder to do.  We may not feel like it. We may not want to, think we should or should have to.  But it's a small action.  Nothing grand, but words do make a difference and not just to the person we say them to.  Our words shape us, they shape our inner and outer worlds.  Instead of waiting for the wind to change, we can put  good vibes out  - they will come back to us.  I'm not saying that things will magically change, nor should we ignore our feelings, of course, but when we don't know where to start, two small words can be one small step. They will help take down the bricks.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Give it Up (And Small is the New Big)

I recently read an article about a couple who's marriage was on the rocks, so they started feeding the homeless in their city.  The couple was full of resentment and rage, and believed deeply that it was mostly - if not all - the other person's fault.  They were each convinced that other was beyond hope.  They would make statements, like lots of folks who come to see me for marital therapy do, like "I know I've got my faults but really this is all his/her doing..."  Or  "If s/he would just..."   And sometimes its true.  Sometimes a partner has a real personality disorder.  Sometimes there is just too much resentment, hurt, betrayal to move forward.  The pain and anger are just a brick wall.  But even when this is true, I think there are ways to get relief.

So this couple that I read about, who had not been speaking to each other for a year or so, and had not had sex in as long or longer, started to get active in helping others.  First the wife, in her emotional pain and deep loneliness, decided one day that if she could not fix her own life, and since she was suffering so much, she could at least bring some comfort to someone else.  It would give her a purpose somehow.  So she made some sandwiches and got some bottled water and set out to downtown in her city and handed them out to some folks who looked like they could use them.

She was well received by most, and so decided she'd do it again.  And then again.  And soon she was doing it more and more.  And her husband saw and he was quiet.  But then one day he offered to help her carry some things.  And she somehow decided to let him.  And then somehow, slowly he started to help more and then more.  And somehow, they started to get back far more than they were giving.  They were feeding others, but really, they were being nourished.

I am not going to tell you that all was peachy and the resentment of the past just floated away into nothingness.  Or that they fell in love all over again.  Or that you should give in order to get back, or with the intention that it will pay off.  

Except that it does.  Somehow, the giving shapes you.  It softens the hard edges and smooths over some of the bumps, just enough to ease things somewhat and open new doors.  And I think, too, that small is the new big.  We don't have to go big or go home anymore.  We just have to go.  Just a little.  A smile, a sandwich, holding open a door, yielding someone the right of way with a wave.  Lots of things count.  A little at a time.

I'm not saying its the cure-all.  But it sure does get us out of ourselves for a bit.  And when we are hurt or hurting, giving, being of service can make all the difference.  Quiet.  Powerful.
and worth trying.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the Now

"The time we have here is so short..." ~ an 80 year old colleague of mine who is still practicing

I recently had the good fortune to spend some time with a colleague of mine who is in well into her senior years.  She was talking about her experience over the course of her lifetime in both her private practice and in her personal life.  She is healthy, mentally and emotionally and physically, and grateful for all.  And she has, too, some regrets.  But she carries them with her in a nostalgic tone - and she tells me that even with so much emotional pain during different stages in her life that have come and gone over the years both with her clients and in her own life - that one thing that has always helped her has been to be open to being "in the now" of the good and quiet nature and  the universal pace of life.

What she meant by that is this: that even in emotional pain, in anger, anxiety, in grief, in loneliness, there are still moments in the day that are quiet, that are calm, that are accessible.  And that perhaps especially in the midst of all the feelings and all the noise in our heads when we are in all the feelings, it is so important to allow all the feelings and then too, it can be so helpful, to just turn our attention to the blue sky, to the warm sun, to the gentle breeze.  To just be in the moment, even if for a moment.  

It helps us to step out - even if just in our mind - of the circumstance, of our thinking and step into the other part of the story, into the part of life that is just the movement of the day, the nature of life, the gratitude of having air to breathe, clean drinking water, eyes that can read.  And to tap into the knowledge that we can make our human efforts to continuously work on and know ourselves, to deepen our consciousness and work better with difficult people and difficult situations but too that being in the now is where we are supposed to be, even when things are confusing, or they hurt.  Things pass; they shift.  And when we have the idea that we do not always have to be in our thinking or in our feelings, we can get in touch with a quieter, instinctively healthy and calmer voice, a peaceful self and some much needed reprieve and relief.

When we are in pain emotionally time can seem to go so slow.  We wait and wait for it to pass, for something new to present itself, for the feelings to lift.  And they do, usually, if we let them come and go and if we have the idea that we can't hurry things or push them along, but we can be in the now, and in the "other" now, of the universal nature of living life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Sometimes doing no work at all is doing work.

In the middle of our busy lives, it can seem counter-productive to just stop and do nothing.  Many of us do not have the idea that doing nothing is actually doing something.  In fact, when I suggest just sitting around, sitting still, and really doing nothing most people tell me that they feel guilty.  That they should be doing something. The laundry, the cooking, the bills, the lawn, the closet that needs cleaned out.  Something. 

But here in the middle of a summer's week, especially, I think, its a good time to just practice doing nothing.  Just for a few minutes.  Take a quick time out and just be.  Don't meditate, or contemplate, or ruminate.  Walk away from the electronics and just sit quietly for a few minutes. 

It is actually something.  It is the practice of just being in the moment, in the day, in your self.  It is the work of slowing down, and stepping out, even if just for a moment or two from the daily rush, not just of the busy-ness of the day, but the busy-ness of your mind. 

Especially for those who are in some kind of emotional pain, have some kind of decision to make, are confused, feeling lots of feelings at once, or in rapid succession.  Just taking a breather can feel like work, it can feel like too much too do, to just sit.  But it is the work of taking good care of yourself, the work of leaving your mind alone for a minute or two and that counts.  It counts because when you pick back up again you might find that you are somewhat, slightly, subtly, just a bit more able to do what is the next on the never ending list of things to do. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Worry Train or Hang Gliding on Feelings (the stories we tell ourselves)

I have often written about how our thoughts are like lightening during the day.  I think this is especially true for anxious thoughts that cause worry feelings.  Many people feel some sort of unease in their life, and experience the unease in their bodies as well.  For some the experience is a  very big and obvious feeling of discomfort and for others it  feels more like a low, but  uncomfortable vibration just underneath the surface.

We all have so many thoughts all the time, many of which we are not consciously aware of - that is the nature of thought and of the human experience. But understanding how and why we attach ourselves to those thoughts and can go a long way towards influencing our experience of each other, of life, of ourselves. 

When a thought or thought pattern comes into our head and we latch on, or start hang gliding on it, we close ourselves off to deeper levels of consciousness, of awareness about what we are thinking, and we close off the possibility of the thoughts and feelings passing without any action having to take place; we shut off the possibility of new, more relaxing, life giving ideas and feelings coming to us.
Deciding to be less attached to each thought or to turn the volume down on our thoughts by looking out for negative thinking patterns and not latching on so fast does not mean dishonoring our emotional pain or checking our brains at the door.  It means paying deeper attention to what we are experiencing and being open to letting it breath so that it can pass through if it's meant to pass and to open us back up again to new ideas and new ways of experiencing our world. 

It seems too simple at times, to say, lighten up or cheer up or chin up, or to tell yourself a new story.  Our old stories have meaning to us, sometimes we don't even know how much meaning they have or how much we believe that they protect us or serve us.  We can be afraid to see things differently or to let things go.  We can feel very entitled to our feelings, and we may very well be, but it's worth considering that being open to understanding more about how and why we think the way we do, or to letting our feelings and thoughts come, but also go, and not deciding to hang glide on one or two, can be very liberating.   The worry train can pull into the station, but we don't always have to get on.  We can notice it.  We can let it pull out of the station and keep going, and see if a better train pulls in.

You might be surprised at the outcome.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Fabric of Pain

“Pain is like fabric: The stronger it is, the more it’s worth.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
I'm not totally sure about this one, but it's good grist for the mill.  What do you think?
Perhaps in the deep end of emotional pain, it doesn't matter really what, if anything, the pain is worth.
On the other hand, if at least the hurt is worth something, it helps it to be more bearable.  If we can feel it, allow it, without acting on it in ways that hurt us or hurt others, if we can name it and say it and know it, and learn something from it, then perhaps it is worth something of value to us.
Not that you would sign up for it, but most people have some kind of pain at some point in life.  And if you can get curious about what the fabric of your pain is made of, you often find that there much more to it.  Most pain has mixed colors, mixed textures, old and new feelings, patterns, origins.  Pain teaches us about what we value, what we need, what we believe.  It teaches us to look  more deeply at life, and then, to not.  To give ourselves a break and a breather.
Sometimes there is not a clear way through.  There are lots of good therapies, techniques, principals, methods, theories to help us clear away the blocks to knowing more about ourselves, to changing our state of mind, our not-so-useful-anymore behaviors, our attitudes, our feelings.  But when it comes down to it, I think we have to trust our own process, our own innate sense of what we can take in and how we metabolize feelings and ideas. 
There is often an urgency associated with pain, understandably, and of course.  It can be very hard to tolerate.  Anger, frustration, hurt, loneliness, self pity, grief.  They can get overwhelming and the urge to "get rid of" or to distance ourselves from those feelings can seem full of charge.  But the process of being with ourselves and in our experience and getting through can and does have value if we look for it, and better can and does come, and we can turn around and use that to help ourselves further, and to help others, and that, I'm pretty sure, is worth something.