Zvi Bellin, PhD, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Rotating Header Image

Meaning Blog

Meaning Blog: Tips to Funk With

It is so easy to stay in a funk. I wake up in a dark room and my mind has already been spinning for a while, thinking about what I have to do and how I do not really want to do. Getting out of bed just seems absurd, yet I can’t really relax and enjoy being under the covers. Every now and then, I can catch myself and recognize the opportunity that is present. I am awake! This moment can frame my whole day. How can I engage this day with a zest for life? With joy and excitement? With moment-by-moment awareness?

Other days I expend energy in resistance. I might get to work on time, interact peaceably with friends and co-workers, eat three meals, and yet carry around the weight of resistance all day long. It can be simply exhausting!

When I have days like this, I do a few things that can help to shift this heavy bearing feeling.

First thing is to STOP & SHIFT. I find time to stop going through the motions and do something that is unusual. For example, I might take a quick walk outside before I eat breakfast to simply pay attention to the natural beauty of the world around me. Maybe I will play a game to say “good afternoon” to strangers on the elevator ride up and down from lunch. Perhaps I will send a 3 word text to someone that I have not connected with in a while – “Thinking of you.” There are so many tiny ways to shift the gear from complacency to creativity. And I find that a small act can make a huge impact on my mood.

Second thing is to PRACTICE. I cannot expect everything to change eternally in one moment. So I try out a STOP & SHIFT technique and explore how that impacts the stories in my head (and/or the feelings in my heart). I might notice some positivity creeping in and then a return to heaviness. I then know that it is time to try something else. You might think of this as taking a daily vitamin regimen for your heart, mind, and spirit.

On last tip for today…FEEL & BREATHE! If I am having a particularly “hard” day, where I am overwhelmed by negative emotions and thoughts, I take time to feel the feelings as they occur in different parts of my body. For example, a tight throat or a queasy stomach. I just sit down, in any position I feel like (or stand up if I am waiting for the train), breathe until my stomach gently fills with air, and take note of what is happening inside. I imagine that each breath is like a gentle wave that is helping to move any stuck emotions or persistent thoughts through my mind/body system. I do this for as long as I have time to, or until I become distracted. Distraction is part of the letting go process. The best part about this method is that I can do this anywhere, it’s free, and it has been practiced in every culture, across the whole planet, from the beginning of human consciousness. That is time tested!

Have you tried these tips before? How have they worked for you? Anything else that you do to help ease you out of your funk? Comment below and let us know.

Meaning Blog: Corrections!

(Photo credit: http://www.e-bas.com.au/bookkeeping-blog/correcting-gst-mistakes)

The New York Times makes mistakes! I was reading a section of the Sunday paper and noticed a small Corrections blurb. It was so liberating to note that even the New York Times makes mistakes. I really hope that whoever (or however many people) typed Twin Rivers instead of Two Rivers was ultimately met with compassion as the editorial team concluded, “Don’t worry, we will print a correction.” Now let’s not let on that we know that Corrections actually is a way for the New York Times to say, “Oops! We messed up and we apologize for our carelessness.”

I know when I make a mistake it takes me a while to get to the place where I can first fully admit that I made a mistake. When I finally do, I tend to wallow in the guilt and shame of doing something wrong. Like the time I sent an introduction email about one course I was teaching to the wrong class roster.  It was my very first course that I was teaching in person, and I already felt like a total failure. And to twist the dagger a little deeper, it was a course about adolescent psychology, and misspelled the word adolescent! I was sure I was going to get an email the next day excusing me from my position. I feel some embarrassment to fess up to this folly even now, though I am sure something similar has happened to you.   After a mini freak out, I sent a carefully crafted correction to the wrong roster, and then sent my original email to the correct class with a correctly spelled subject headline.

Later that evening, I had a good cry/laugh with a good friend about my mistake as I realized that the world was not going to end. This seemed to be an important step. If I just kept the story to myself, I would be stuck with my own exaggerated terror filled episode. Life out loud is generally a lot less terrifying.

The next time you make a mistake, remind yourself that even the New York Times makes mistakes and for most mistakes, you too can probably offer a correction.

Meaning Blog: Acceptance – True of False?

(Photo credit: http://bloggingblue.com/2012/01/09/when-the-meme-goes-against-you-kill-the-meme/ostrich-man-head-in-sand/)

I wonder if the idea of acceptance has become another form of reality repression. Everyone is talking about accepting what life brings you. Accept your anger. Accept your grief and sadness. Accept your gifts too. I notice when I practice acceptance a few things might happen, but they seem to be summed up in two different modes. The first is acceptance as being with. This means that when I am angry about something, then I allow myself to be angry. And if I am angry at a certain person then I allow myself to express that anger to the best of my ability. I am also patient with myself, recognizing that it takes time for emotions to pass through the filter of my being. I activate my support network – talk to friends and loved ones. I might even rearrange my schedule so I can have some space to explore and recover. This kind of acceptance is like an embrace. It is active. When you hug someone that you fully accept, you wrap your arms around that person and let them know that they are wanted up close.

The other kind of acceptance that can happen is the head-in-the-sand acceptance. This is a near-enemy of true acceptance. I realize that something significant is happening that warrants attention and instead I just keep going on with life as usual. The mental process is a quick, “I am open to whatever is going on,” without taking time to fully explore what that is. An example is when I was in a teacher-student relationship with a manipulative Rabbi. I just accepted his unhealthy behaviors without much consideration and remained under his influence long after my gut was telling me to leave. I was convinced I was in a spiritual practice of acceptance, when really I was self-manipulating to remain in denial.

Acceptance does not mean suffering in silence. It does not mean turn the other cheek. Rather, acceptance is an ongoing and active practice of fully embracing how your internal and external worlds intertwine. Finally, acceptance is not always something to do alone. If you are having trouble accepting something, share it with someone you trust.

Meaning Blog: Diversify your Meaning Portfolio

(Photo credit: http://www.familieswithpurpose.com/images/Filestarter_folders_resized.jpg)

I am currently reading a memoir entitled, Impaired: A Nurse’s Story of Addiction and Recovery, by Patricia HolloranAs the title suggests, the book is about a nurse’s struggle with addiction to a common narcotic given to women in labor. More than this, the book highlights the determination needed for an honest recovery and the rigmarole Patricia had to do in order to keep her nursing license. It is so clear how being a nurse is essential to the meaning framework of the author. She calls it her, “first love,” and the thought of losing this identity seems to be her catalyst to seriously deal with her addiction.

As I read about the great importance that the author places on her career, I wonder about a cultural change in Western society. It used to be that a person could find themselves in a career in their mid- to late twenties and settle into a warm fuzzy feeling of purpose. Perhaps this was not exactly the case, but, growing up it was presented to me as a clear goal for reaching adulthood. Lately, we find that young people do not jump into a clear career path and there are even movements in Vocational Psychology which suggest that we should drop the term “career” from our vocabulary and talk instead about a work path – which pays attention to job changes, home responsibilities, and volunteer work in one’s community. This switch creates the possibility of gleaning a sense of meaning from a wider range of activity. We no longer have to base our sense of meaning around one identifier: the long-term career.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find that adults who were in long-term careers are getting pushed out by a multitude of reasons, only to find that they are not ready for retirement. These individuals are finding that there is still a meaningful life to be had beyond the office walls.

It seems to me that we are learning to diversify our meaning portfolio, so we have a greater chance of experiencing a stable and sustainable sense of meaning throughout the twists and turns of life.

I believe that the fear to embrace this change in reality is what causes many of us to become addicted to our jobs. We easily get caught in the following story: If I do not have this job, than what will I ever do with myself! (This “job” can also be unpaid, such as being a parent or a grandparent.) This story can actually limit a full exploration of one’s deepest potential and desires. I do think that this goes beyond privileged individuals, as people of lesser means, at least in the USA, also live within a story of limitations which is kept in place by fear.

If we can see beyond this fear, that our life story is actually not bound by the single narrative that we exist in, and that a myriad of alternative possibilities are constantly knocking at our door , we can actually embrace the dynamics of Life with excitement.   So, a challenge that I invite you to undertake is to consider how you can diversify your meaning portfolio. If you see that you are putting all your eggs in one meaning basket, it might be a good idea to consider and expand upon the more subtle meaning potentials in your life.

 

Meaning Blog: Up a Down Escalator

(Photo credit: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/maps_and_graphs/2010/6/10/1276184708471/The-down-escalator-London-006.jpg)

A few days ago I was waiting for the commuter train from Oakland to Berkeley, AKA BART. As I was standing on the platform, I saw a middle-aged man rush down from the floor above and speed onto the down escalator that would take him to the tracks going towards San Francisco. After a few steps down he shouted, “Damn!” He swung his body around and started walking against the escalator flow, trying to get back to the platform I was on. He had a cane in one hand and was walking quite slowly, and I was afraid that if I helped him he would lose his footing and fall. Unfortunately, he was not able to keep the double-pace needed to defeat the down escalator and after a few moments, with a shrug of his shoulders and a deep sigh, he gave up and effortlessly floated downwards.

This episode made me think about how I deal with mistakes that I perceived that I have made. At first, I try to fight against the current that I did anything wrong.  I hold this image of myself as someone who does not hurt other people and who walks around with some sense of direction. But inevitably, a careless word or thoughtless decision shatters the frail persona of perfection. So what is left to do?

A good shoulder shrug is in order to release all the tension of trying to hold perfection together. A good sigh makes room to accept the truth, “I am not perfect.” Next, I have to look around. I am on the platform below where I want to be. What do I need to do now to get up there, and what should I pay more attention to so that I will not make the same mistake twice? I am not too fond of generalizations, but this might be the quickest way to get going on the right track. Perhaps a bit later than expected and with a bit more exercise than intended, I am sure that the man got home just fine.

Many blessings!

Meaning Blog: Fish In the Ocean Searching for Water

This past week I celebrated the holiday of Sukkot with Wilderness Torah. Over 150 people of all ages co-created a celebratory village on an organic farm just south of Half Moon Bay in Northern California. I had a significant role in the ritual and holiday specific activities during the week. I helped to create an artistic focal piece in the community gathering space (the Sukkah), co-lead beautiful prayer services with dear friends, and held space for a reboot of ancient spiritual practices. The community was incredible – supportive, warm, embracing! I am excited to continue my relationship with this organization and all the people that make it tick.

Interestingly enough, while I was at the festival, I had a few instances where I wondered where the magic was. I saw in front of me a camp of people having Shabbat, or celebrating a holiday. I thought, “why go through all this trouble? Is this going to bring transformation?”  I had this overzealous expectation that spending time in nature would blast my awareness open and I would leave seeing the Divine pulsing in each moment. That is asking a lot!

So when I left the farm, I was still me. I came with Zvi and I left with Zvi. Same worries, same challenges, same gifts. And I thought, “well, that was that!”

What I am starting to realize is that on the farm, I was like a fish in the ocean searching for water. Being in an environment that was so different from my normative context could only be transformative, but at the level of immersion, not analysis. So while my cells were soaking up the birds, trees, fresh air, and amazing community vibes, my mind was busy being a mind – questioning, analyzing, evaluating.

Only now, back in the (comparatively) busy streets of Berkeley, do I notice a slightly enhanced awareness and a bit more ease. I notice a stronger desire to engage in my centering practices and I am also feeling the chaotic pressure of how our society works. It reminds me of my cousin in Israel, who told me that she only realizes the daily stress she lives with when she is traveling abroad.

I want to highlight two learnings from this reflection. The first is that it is essential for personal growth to get out of “your usual” every now and then. This exodus can happen by going on retreat, though also by periodically switching up your routine. And the second is that change and integration can happen without conscious knowing. Next time I notice thoughts of “well, that was that” I will breathe, experience, and continue to observe.

Many blessings!

Meaning blog: Whose Got Milk?!

(Photo credit: http://lovebabypictures.com/baby-pic-baby_screaming.php)

Have you ever had this experience? You are visiting with a newborn baby and are lucky enough to get to hold the baby when they are quiet and peaceful. They are so cute as their eyes lids begin to drift off, their cheeks all smooshie, their lips mushing around on auto-pilot. This was my baby nephew before my sister excused herself outside for a short 5-minute errand. Things were okay into the first minute. I was gently rocking him side to side with a little bounce. He was having the time of his life. Or so I thought.

About 15 seconds into minute two he started getting a bit cranky, and his lips and hands began searching for food. I gave him a pacifier which he sucked once or twice. But no fooling this kid, no milk was coming out of this rubber nipple. This realization was followed by a gargled yelp which sent the pacifier overboard. When his mouth was clear of obstruction, he took full advantage and began to cry and wail a primal scream of MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLKKKKKK!

Well, I took stock of my body and lacking the ability to lactate, I understood that there was nothing I could do to actually help this situation, except to minimize as much suffering as possible until my sister came back. I kept up with the rocking, tried the pacifier again, and said in my sweetest voice, “It’s okay. I know this is not fun. It will be over soon.”  Inside, I prayed for my sister’s speedy return. The crying continued, his face reddening with angst, and my empathy reeling. My sister returned after only three agonizing minutes. I have a re-affirmed respect for anyone who takes care of babies consistently for any length of time.

While I was witnessing my nephew move through suffering, bravely and not hiding an ounce of pain, I began to think how pervasive this situation is. How often are we called to witness the suffering of another human being and are individually powerless to rectify the situation? Probably more than we’d like. This is what my nephew taught me: though we cannot abolish suffering, we should, given our limited resources, do our utmost to lessen it. Even if this just means being there waiting for the remedy to walk through the door.

Many blessings!

Meaning Blog: Meditation Pains

(Photo credit: http://anksexperience.blogspot.com/2010/04/pain.html)

Tick…tick…tick…It was maybe minute 13 or 20 of a 45-minute sitting meditation period at the Awakened Heart Project silent meditation retreat, that I was on last week, when my backache became very painful. Normally, I would offer myself some relief by doing a slow seated twist or hunching over for a few breaths. I normally sit on a cushion with no back support because I usually fall asleep if I am leaning against something. This sit was unique because I was seated at the front of the room facing everyone. I had volunteered to be the bell ringer at this particular sit, and it happened to be the most physically painful sit of the week.

I felt an added responsibility to be still because I wanted to be a model of stillness for the community. The stillness of the outside representing the supposed stillness of the mind inside. But we all know that this is never the case. My mind was concerned and seeking a way to alleviate the pain. This is normal, natural, and mostly beneficial. We experience pain and we do what we can to end it as quickly as possible.

As the time ticked on and the pain intensified, lessened, and redoubled, I decided that I would not move and face this pain for the following reasons: (1) I was not going to die from the pain – even though my mind was afraid of such a possibility, it was just not possible, (2) the time was eventually going to end – so no matter how painful things got, I knew that after 25 minutes or so,  I would be relieved of this self-imposed responsibility to be still, and (3) THE BIG ONE – many times in life I cannot just shirk off suffering and it is important to learn that I can sit through it and see what happens.

The first thing that I noticed was that the pain was not constant. Just like most sensations it danced around, punched and retreated. So the possibility existed that any one moment would actually be painLESS, so it would be inaccurate to say that I was just dwelling in pain.

Next, I noticed how the mind will “contort” itself with outrageous claims in order to bring about instant relief. I really did have several thoughts of, “I am afraid that I am going to die.” There clearly was no real danger of dying. But it is interesting to note how close the fear and acknowledgment of death is, even as we all have become experts in denying its presence.

Lastly, and perhaps the most revelatory for me in this experience, is that our pain (experienced by the self, or seen in another) is very much a call for compassion. Pain is our being’s ringtone for closeness, comfort, and love. During the final minutes of the sit, the pain at its peak, my mantra became – “Inhale, feel the pain. Exhale, compassion on this body.” This is when life gets beautiful – when we can experience our deep yearning for love while finding relief in the knowledge that the closeness we seek is just one breath away.  Ding…

Meaning Blog: Compassion From My Bike Seat

(Photo credit: http://sf.streetsblog.org/category/community-organizations/walk-oakland-bike-oakland/)
A few weeks ago I was riding my bike to work. It was cool and frosty (for the Bay Area) morning and my head was a bit cloudy. I was coming to an intersection and I spotted a young woman standing at the corner judging if she could make it across the street given the oncoming traffic. She stepped into the street and then noticed me coming. She hesitated, seemingly to wait to see if I was going to slow down and let her pass. I slowed my bike, wanting to give her the time to go ahead and cross the street. I made a slow roll towards her as she stayed her place and stared at me. I continued to crawl forward trying to show her that I was slowing for her. As I just about reached her location, she let out a big huff, slapped her thigh in exasperation and stomped across the road yelling, “I was letting you go!” I in turn shouted back, “But I was letting you go!” And I felt embarrassed and a bit angry that she was now frustrated by my attempt to do a favor.

As I myself began to huff-pedal my bike towards downtown Oakland, a thought arose in my mind, “I will never try to do something nice for anyone ever again!” Thankfully, I caught this thought and made light of it. “Okay mind,” I thought in response, “I won’t do anything nice anymore because one person got pissed off at me.” I realized deeper that I was also judging this person. Who knows what state of mind she was in? Where she was heading? Maybe she had been in a bike accident before? It is impossible to know.

The reminder for me is that this happens too often – where we let one event dictate our future relationships and attitudes towards life experiences. Today I went bowling and I had fun doing it. That was a huge shocker for me, because I associate bowling with something that I hated doing as a child, because I was horrible at it. (I am still horrible, and it can still be fun.) So, I want to challenge you to be more aware of the things you hate in life and those moments that piss you off, and see if you can invite in a bit of reason and humor into those situations. You might end up feeling compassionate instead of angry. That is true transformation.

Meaning blog: Living with Uncertainty

(Photo credit: http://www.inquisitr.com/197314/bridge-to-nowhere-returns-in-2012-presidential-election/)

In New Mexico I (poorly) decided to drive around a ROAD CLOSED sign in late January that was blocking a mountain pass towards Albuquerque. I had seen other cars do the same on other roads, and thought, “Hey, why not my car?”

As I wound my way down to the valley, shadow took over and the snow on the ground became more significant. And with no cell service and no back-up plan, I realized that my car could not handle the thickening sleety snow. I turned the radio off so I could concentrate better and began a slow crawling-speed forward, hoping I could make it out the other side.

When I looked far ahead of me I became very nervous. How long is this road? Am I really all alone down here? Aren’t there bears in New Mexico? (Yes, I learned a lot from my naiveté, and here comes the point.)    So to calm myself down I drew my gaze to just a few feet in front of my car. Noting the slow, but steady progress I was making, I was able to let go of some of my fear. And I believe that I learned something about life.

When we try to see the complete path of our life, we can get tangled in tremendous doubt and uncertainty. There are so many unknowns and so many questions that cannot be answered. “Will this relationship last?” “Will my child escape harm?” “Will I land that dream job?” “Will we know peace someday?” I can hope and I can pray, but I can never know.

To deal with this, sometimes petrifying uncertainty, it is good to draw back my focus to some of the more immediate tasks at hand. “What am I doing now to honor my partner and our relationship?” “What skills am I instilling in my children so that they can better handle life’s hardships?” “What actions am I taking in order to compete for the job I want?” “How do my actions increase the peacefulness of my current situation?”

I believe these questions help us to live right on that boundary between what we can and cannot control. We are still driven by our intentions and goals to expand our meaningful selves through time, while we remain anchored in the reality of our present moment.

Every now and then it is helpful and needed to look further ahead, to take the time to remember the limits of our control. We may be able to avoid a far off snow bank. Or, perhaps in the distance the snow has already melted away. By doing so we can appreciate the unknown as a mystery that can make our wildest dreams even greater than we could have imagined.

Many Blessings!