“I’m sorry.” “No, really, I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry. Can you help me?” “I’m sorry. I really appreciate it.”
Is “I’m sorry,” the unconscious mantra you use when you engage with the world? For years, I said, “I’m sorry” for some of the most banal reasons:
To a server who brought me the wrong order;
To someone who had issues pronouncing my name;
To a person who didn’t know an answer to my question;
To someone for a mistake that they made;
For asking a question, and better yet, for asking a “stupid” question.
The list can go on and on, but the truth is, many of us have said this or continue to say this day in and day out. It’s become a conversation filler, a verbal crutch for times when we might feel uncomfortable asking for what we need…and deserve.
Perhaps this is the real issue: fear around owning our own voices and honoring our needs. Punctuating a request for help with “I’m sorry” devalues the very thing you are asking for. Are you really sorry because you need help with your homework? Are you really sorry because you need a ride to school? Maybe there is embarrassment or concern that you are being demanding or needy. And maybe someone has hammered that negative message into your subconscious enough times that it’s become part of your internal dialogue. Time to turn that tape off: It’s time to take your power back and honor your voice.
These days, I very rarely punctuate my statements with “I’m sorry,” but this shift took time.
First, I had to become aware that I was saying it in the first place. In early recovery, I had several people point it out to me over and over and over again. I finally heard it.
Second: Once I was aware of my language, I had to shift my awareness to notice when I was about to say I’m sorry. This is the time when the real internal work begins. Because every time you may want to say “I’m sorry,” you are now aware, conscious of your words and methods of communication. This is where you can stop and pause in order to truncate your phrase and remove “I’m sorry.”
This is a habit. Sure, it’s not a habit that will cause you great physical harm, but it is a negative habit nonetheless. The positive shift that occurs once this habit is broken is one of quiet empowerment. Self-esteem perks up, self-worth perks up, self-love perks up. The need for an apology should be been remanded to a time when there is really something to be sorry for: stealing, lying, cheating, hurting someone’s feelings, et cetera. It no longer has a place as the perpetual grammatical prefix in your sentence structure.
Wise speech is a foundational piece in our recovery, particularly as we work to mend our relationships with others and ourselves. It requires that we make a conscious effort to shift our perceptions about what we want to say versus what we need to say. As we begin to shift toward healthier, and more mindful communication, we create opportunities for healthier and more productive relationships with others and with ourselves.
We may find ourselves in direct contact with a difficult person–perhaps someone who has been known to trigger your anxiety or propel you into a state of dysregulation. But you’re tired of that rollercoaster ride of emotional uncertainty. You want change.
I once heard someone say, “Words are bullets.” It made me pause. I remember being stunned by the deep truth in that statement and it has stuck with me ever since. In a way, it was the tipping point for my own work around wise speech. The practice of being wise with my words started with me recognizing the need to pause before saying anything and the reality that just because someone else is using harsh language doesn’t mean I have to as well. I use the following phrases now when I find myself in a difficult situation, perhaps one that is heated or potentially triggering. Try asking yourself the following as well:
Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Is it true?Be honest. Is what you want to say true and honest?
Is it necessary?While something may be true, do you really need to say it? Out loud? Will it positively impact someone’s life? Or will it ultimately create harm?
Is it kind?This is the icing on the cake. If something is true, and perhaps necessary, but its underpinnings are mean, omit it. Seriously, just don’t say it.
In the 12-step model, particularly in step 10, we are asked to continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admit it. This step asks us to investigate our actions and remedy them appropriately and immediately to ensure that we haven’t caused harm, or increased someone’s suffering based on our negative and often selfish actions. This inventory process encourages our accountability: when we are honest in our inventories, we stay honest within our communities. In the Refuge Recovery model, the practice of wise speech asks that we abstain from lying, divisive or malicious speech, gossiping, and abusive or hateful speech–period. In other words, practitioners are encouraged to work on this behavior as a daily part of their recovery practice. It takes the practice of inventory further, and raises our consciousness around our own behavior.
Simply put: If it’s not nice, don’t say it.
Practicing wise speech also applies to the way we speak to ourselves. You know, the idle internal chatter that tells us we aren’t good enough. Think of it this way, if we spoke to others the way we speak to ourselves, we wouldn’t have any friends. Some examples of negative self-talk include telling yourself:
I’m not good enough.
Why bother, I’ll fail anyway.
No one cares.
I’m a waste of space.
I’m not pretty enough.
I’m not smart enough.
I am not good enough.
No one likes me.
The list goes on and the damage this commentary elicits is great. The reality is, these thoughts aren’t truth; they are a manifestation of a skewed perception of one’s self. The work here is to begin to shift those negative perceptions toward a more positive refrain. We have to have the courage to begin to unravel the root causes that created this commentary in the first place. The “old tapes” of abuse arise when we are under duress, stress, or lack of sleep. We can then look at this as an opportunity to care for ourselves in a way that may feel foreign so we can shift the paradigm of negative self-talk toward positive and supportive self-care. The phrases, “Is it True, Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?” are relevant here too. I also like to encourage the simpler version of these questions,: is it helpful or harmful. I find that this is a phrase easy to access for adolescents and kids.
The practice of wise speech is two-fold: we have to speak kindly to ourselves and treat ourselves the way we want to be treated; we have to be mindful of the way in which we speak to others. If we strive for perfection, we will fail. The goal here is to do your best. This is really about creating a heightened awareness, giving life to that 10th step and engaging in a tangible mindfulness practice. The more you are aware and conscious of your actions, the more likely you are to change. And remember, no one is perfect. We are all a work in progress. The goal is “progress, not perfection.”
Joseph Rogers has been with Visions since 2005, first as a recovery mentor at our Mulholland facility and later becoming the Director of Education at the Outpatient Day School. Joseph has run the Mindfulness Meditation/11th Step, Spirituality group since 2007, exploring how developing spiritual practice is applicable to recovery. He also co-facilitates the Outpatient DBT Skills group with Jesse Engdahl on Wednesdays. Two and a half years ago, Joseph stepped down from the Director position in order to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree and begin the process of stepping into his new role of Chaplain. This has been a long-time coming: Joseph has been in facilitator/teacher training with Against the Stream Meditation Society for the last 5 years, and has built a remarkable community of cohorts and students.
It with great pride and excitement, as well as a bit of a heavy heart, that we bid Joseph farewell as he steps onto a new path. Joseph will begin his residency at UCLA, earning his CPEs (Clinical Pastoral Education) at the top of September. As sad as we are to see him leave the Visions nest, we are excited to see where this takes him. Joseph offers a sense of calm assurance to the deeply suffering, and he is able to hold space for vulnerable people in a profound manner. UCLA has a priceless jewel on their hands.
Joseph has been a consistent members of the VTeam for almost a decade, seamlessly blending boundaries and compassion, while encouraging a love for learning. He has created a foundational resource for the kids and staff to look to for support as well as leadership. Many alumni and staff alike will joyfully reminisce about learning history through the various comedic voices Joseph uses. He has been the rock for many, and the quiet storm of compassion for all.
Joseph isn’t completely leaving Visions, however. He will continue to run the Mindfulness Meditation/11th Step, Spirituality groupand he will continue to co-facilitate the outpatient DBT Skills group. Despite our denial that he won’t be with us every day, we are really excited for him and grateful for his dedication and commitment to Visions. Joseph has carved out a thoughtful, compassionate path of service, dedicating his life to help others recover and find peace with their suffering. Reverend Joseph Rogers, M.Div as a nice sound to it, eh?
“A kind, gentle soul. I will miss seeing Joseph’s smile everyday. I always look forward to his gems and guidance. A true friend I have found. I wish him the very best as he sets out on his journey. The world is a better place for him being here. Thank you for the honor of working with you.”– Noelle Rodriguez
“Ahhh! JRO! We will miss you and your gentle ways. Throughout the years, you have been a driving force for our school. You provide so much more than a basic education to our kids; the love you have put into it has been so good for us and the clients. We are so proud of your hard work and making it into the UCLA program, you truly lead by example. We will miss you very much. Thank you for the years spent together!” Amanda Shumow
I befriended Joseph years ago while I was studying at CSUN in the credential program. I told him that I worked at a little place called Visions and he was immediately interested. Soon after being hired, he took the position at IOP as teacher. Over the years he has made his mark as a calm leader with a fierce passion for his work. Joseph is wise and knows enough to always be learning. He is an educator in the truest sense of the word and will be missed by staff and students alike. His contribution to Visions has been, and will forever be, immeasurable. Joseph embodies the words of Bruce Lee: “A teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself.” – Daniel Dewey
“Joseph is an amazing person, teacher and soul. He is someone that you meet and instantly feel that you are in the presence of someone wise, calm, and fearless. I wish him all the best, in all that he does!” — Jenny Werber
“I’ve never known anyone to be more universally liked by clients and parents than Joseph. Joseph is the rare person with whom you can disagree, but still feel your view was thoughtfully considered, while not feeling imposed by his own.” – Garth LeMaster
“Joseph, you are a man with great insight and gentle wisdom. I have seen you live your convictions, tenderly heal wounded children and be the doorway of understanding for lost souls. I wish you peace, joy, challenges and love. Thank you for your part in my crazy art lady journey.” Ever faithfully yours — Susan “The Art Lady” O’Conner
“Joseph has not only been an amazing role model as a productive co-worker but has become an amazing friend and mentor for whom I will dearly miss. I wish nothing but the best for him and all the experiences to come. You will be missed and loved always ” — Nick Riefner
“Joseph’s energy is contagious in every way possible. Every time I see him, no matter what is happening, he seems calm and at peace… For someone as anxiety driven as I am, being around someone so serene is refreshing. I have so much respect for Joseph and aspire to one day walk with as much dignity as he does.” – Ashley Harris
“Joseph will be missed. He has a very special way of relating to our clients that involves, at times, an extraordinary amount of patience. I often sit out here at my desk and listen in to the conversations going on between Joseph and the kids. I am equally entertained, amazed, and grateful to have been a fly on the wall of Joseph’s classroom.” – Natalie Holman
“I’ll miss Joseph terribly, I think it’s been so beneficial for our teens to see strength in a man shown through kindness, non judgment and calmness.” Roxie Fuller
“Thank you, Joseph. Thank you for helping to create an environment for learning, healing and recovery for Visions kids and families. Thank you for your unique perspective for leading the education and meditation groups and classes. There is some thing very special about the way you gently lead the kids with confidence and class. Thank you, Joseph!” – John Lieberman
“Joseph has been teaching me since my first day – a friend, a mentor, and a big brother all in one. I’ve been afforded so much of his wisdom and care from this relationship, it will be really hard not to have him here all the time. Riding shotgun while he teaches mediation, DBT, or most importantly sober FUN, he constantly helps me take care of the kids and myself in the kindest and simplest ways. No one can really imagine Visions without him; I’m just grateful for all the time I’ve had with him and that he will still be doing groups with me.” – Jesse Engdahl
“Joseph has been such a huge part of my Visions experience and I think I’m the saddest to see him go. He is my friend, my teacher, my mentor, and my right hand. He has always been so supportive and understanding of things only us Visions teachers would understand. He has a strange yet peaceful way about him that makes any day a good day. He always seems to have the right words of wisdom in any situation and it’s hard to imagine he won’t be around. After years of morning check-ins about life, love, and the pursuit of sanity I’m going to miss him dearly. I wish him the best in his new endeavors and I am forever grateful for the time, wisdom, knowledge, and random facts he’s passed on to me. I’ll continue to make you proud, Jofes… thank you for being my shoulder to whine on, my ear to vent, and my rock to keep me sane.” – Adriana Camarillo
“With a heavy heart, I bid farewell to an amazing man, father and colleague. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Joseph for nearly a decade and it’s hard to imagine my day-to-day without him. Joseph represents a quiet force, guiding his students with conviction and offering hope where there may be none. While he continues to be a spiritual inspiration to both staff and students, we will miss the man who, for so long, has been the core of Visions Day School. The feeling is bittersweet. Selfishly, we want him to stay. But the truth is, he has another calling and with that, I honor his path and I am always grateful for this experience.” – Fiona Ray
Refuge Recovery was birthed in direct response to the clear need for a viable, non-theistic approach to recovery. Noah, feeling disconnected from the 12 steps’ theistic philosophy, found deeper relief within the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path of Buddhism. Many members of Against the Stream who were talking about similar difficulties pursued similar conversations. There was a need to shift the paradigm of 12-step recovery and open the door to an alternative path. Refuge Recovery doesn’t ask anyone to shift a belief system, nor does it require anyone to believe in something. It simply asks that you “trust the process and do the hard work of recovery.” You also don’t have to be Buddhist to participate.
The Four Truths of Recovery are:
1: We suffer due to our addictions and the general difficulties of being human in this world of constant change and loss.
2: Craving is a natural phenomenon; it is not our fault, but we are fully responsible for our healing and recovery.
3: We can fully recover and enjoy a life of sanity and well-being.
4: This is the path to recovery: the Eight-fold Path.
Refuge Recovery begins with the First Truth: addiction creates suffering. Understanding that addiction always creates suffering is crucial. Suffering is craving the next drink or drug. Suffering is the idea that you can’t get enough; Suffering is the loneliness and shame and isolation. Suffering is the desire for more pleasure and less pain, which we persistently seek in our addiction. Suffering shows its face in a multitude of maladaptive behaviors. Understanding this first truth and then accepting it as reality also means accepting that drink and drug aren’t an option any longer. Recognizing the multiple layers of suffering is encouraged through inventory work: “Without full acceptance and disclosure, recovery is not possible. We cannot skip this step; we must be thorough in our inventory process.” (page 6, RR)
The Second Truth asks you to do another inventory, this time seeking clarity and acceptance around the causative factors behind your craving. “The addict is not at fault for the root causes and conditions that lead to addiction, only for the habitual reactive patterns that perpetuate it.” (page 11, RR) More often than not, someone suffering from addiction is suffering from deep pain and dissatisfaction in their lives. Perhaps there is abuse, and drugs and alcohol help numb the pain; perhaps there is neglect, and drugs and alcohol make you forget. The reasons and root causes are many and they are varied, but they all lead to the same place: suffering.
The 8-Fold Path of Recovery directs us toward maintaining safety and creating a refuge from addiction. The Eight-Fold Path of Refuge Recovery is:
1: Understanding: We come to know that everything is ruled by cause and effect.
2: Intention: We renounce greed, hatred, and delusion. We train our minds to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure with non-attached appreciation.
3: Communication/Commmunity: We take refuge in the community as a place to practice wise communication and to support others on their paths. We practice being careful, honest, and wise in our communications.
4: Action/Engagement: We let go of the behaviors that cause harm. We ask that one renounces violence, dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Compassion, honesty, integrity, and service are guiding principles.
5: Livelihood/Service: We are of service whenever and wherever possible. And we try and ensure that our means of livelihood are such that they don’t cause harm.
6: Effort/Energy: We commit to daily contemplative practices like meditation and yoga, exercise, and the practices of wise actions, kindness, forgiveness, compassion which lead to self-regulatory behaviors in difficult circumstances.
7: Mindfulness/Meditations: We develop wisdom by means of practicing formal mindfulness meditation. We practice present-time awareness in our lives.
8: Concentration/Meditations: We develop the capacity to focus the mind on one thing, such as the breath, or a phrase, training the mind through the practices of lovingkindness, compassion, and forgiveness to cultivate that which we want to uncover. (pages 24-26 RR)
What Refuge Recovery does is encourage practitioners to lean into their discomfort, investigate it, notice its impermanence, and begin to let it go. It encourages a deep shift in one’s relationship to suffering, creating an element of space around it, and it provides a unique ability to begin to care for your own suffering with compassion. Ultimately, we learn that we are not our suffering.
Refuge Recovery asks practitioners to know and understand that everything has a cause and effect and to take action to shift toward making better, wiser choice. Our actions are never without a reaction, good, bad or indifferent.
Refuge Recovery has been a deep, grounding cornerstone of my own recovery for the last 6 years. It has profoundly shifted how I view my own difficulties and allowed me to come to a deep understanding of how to hold my pain with compassion and approach my difficulties with kindness. It’s exciting to see this work come to fruition and to have been involved in the Refuge Recovery movement since its inception. I have been fortunate to witness the efficacy of Refuge Recovery for those who are just getting sober and for those with long-term sobriety, proving to me that this method works. It’s also been a wonderful alternative for clients struggling with the 12-step model; these same clients have embraced the Refuge Recovery process, finding relief from their suffering and formed a solid foundation of recovery and service.
There are regular Refuge Recovery meetings in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Oklahoma City, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Nashville. See HERE for a complete list with times and locations. If one isn’t in your area, you are encouraged to start your own. You can download meeting formats and Refuge Recovery inventories and meditations at RefugeRecovery.org. In addition, BLVD Treatment Centers is offering the first Refuge Recovery track for adults in treatment. There is also a Refuge Recovery sober living that has recently launched, that is has created a sober living environment in coordination with the Refuge Recovery Model.
In addition to our therapeutic programs, Visions offers contemplative practices to our teens that teach and encourage skills for self-regulation and self-care. We have regular yoga classes and a weekly meditation group.
Jessica Rosen, founder of One Down Dog in Silverlake, heads up our yoga program. She brings in a playful element to yoga that the kids love. This allows them to reconnect with themselves in a profound way. I spoke to Jessica and asked her what she feels she brings to the clients, and how contemplative practices are helpful in recovery. She said, “Through the practice of yoga I hope to offer students the tools to get comfortable in discomfort. Through yoga and meditation we explore our challenges, we confront our inner critic, we gain clarity and find acceptance. For example, the ability to sit in a hip opener may help us sit through a tough breakup, or better handle confrontation and fights with our friends/parents, and gain confidence in ourselves and our appearance.”
I also asked Joseph Rogers, Visions Education Coordinator at the Visions Day School, Chaplain and meditation facilitator, how he feels meditation is helping the clients. Joseph said, “The most immediate and greatest benefit is that the clients learn how to, as the Big Book says, ‘stop and pause when agitated.’ Additionally, I try to make a great deal of effort to put these kids on the path of compassion for themselves and others.”
The contemplative practices can have a profound effect on one’s ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and connect with the present moment. Both offer a chance to pause, to look inward, and to come to a place of equanimity (mental calmness and composure) when faced with difficulty.
I too teach yoga to youth, and one thing I notice are the high levels of stress these kids face. The pressures of being cool, getting good grades, and the discomfort of the rapid physical changes can be overwhelming. This is where contemplative practices are useful. I’ve found that teaching kids the ability to take a deep breath and pause before responding or reacting to difficulty is hugely beneficial. Developing a sense of self-awareness helps eliminate the sense of perpetual urgency to respond or act on an impulse. The contemplative practices also engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the area within our nervous system that quiets the fight or flight response, quells anxiety, and brings things back into harmony.
There are three key tools for self-regulation, and the contemplative practices are the perfect conduit for them:
Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.
Grounding: Reconnecting to the present moment, your emotions and physical sensations. One grounds themselves by noticing their feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid in order to help themselves get back into the body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.
Resourcing: We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools we can easily access that make us reconnect with calm. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.
Orienting: Checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. This is a disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control. So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings and we do this by looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting or standing—Orienting is acute observation or present-time awareness.
The contemplatice practices of yoga and meditation provide a means of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. They create a sense of awareness, and allow the practitioner to be ok with not being ok, and to accept where they are emotionally and physically in that particular moment in space and time. Addiction and mental illness are dysregulating, but the use of contemplative practices opens the door to self-regulation, which does foster recovery.
It’s that time: New Year’s Eve celebrations are upon us! For many, it’s the time of year often met with party plans and resolutions. Parties and resolutions together sound like a juxtaposition and affect some legitimate irony, but nevertheless, they go together for most people every 31st of December. However, if you are in recovery, have clearer eyes and hopefully a wiser mind, things might look a bit different during this time of year.
There are several articles offering tips and guidelines for setting up the “perfect” New Year resolutions, 0r embarking on a New Year cleanse, or signing up for a New Year workout plan. The one thing all of these have in common is the idea that you can and will actually commit to changing a bevy of major things just because it’s the New Year. Sadly, many fail or abandon those impassioned resolutions after a few weeks. One article in particular stuck out to me. This article suggests creating a theme for the New Year rather than a resolution. A New Year’s Theme! That is right in line with the New Year Intentions I have suggested in the past. Both of these, a theme or an intention, are something that can easily be created, worked with and maintained throughout the year. Rather than seeking perfection, or a grand, finite accomplishment, a theme or intention allows one to slowly change behaviors and invite the possibility of more long-term, sustainable changes.
What might your New Year’s Theme or Intention be for 2014?
Kindness: The wonderful quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. You can choose to practice random and not so random acts of kindness throughout the year. Make it a year of being kind when you might otherwise be gruff. Invite some personal curiosity and investigation about what it might be like to respond to difficulty with kindness instead of anger or fear. It’s an interesting one to work with, but everyone can be kind and deserves kindness in return.
Mindfulness: Also looked at as keen “awareness,” mindfulness is an astute awareness of reality and the present moment. It is an acknowledgement that things are just as they are in that moment. If you make mindfulness your New Year theme, perhaps you will begin by investigating the contemplative practices of meditation and yoga. Or perhaps it might mean choosing not to use your cell phone when you are walking around and instead bringing your awareness to your surroundings and becoming more present. It might mean driving without the radio on, or not always having your cell phone nearby. It might mean eating dinner without the television on so you can be more present with your family. Remember, it is not about perfection; this is a practice.
Wellness: If you are desirous of changing your health or the way you eat or the amount of activity you engage in, this is a wonderful theme. You might do this by ruling out meat for one day a week, or by eating more greens. You may choose to limit your caffeine, or cut down on your cigarettes or vape pens: eventually you may even quit! You can increase your wellness, that healthy balance of mind, body and spirit, even if you start small. In fact, small changes over a long period of time have a longer lasting effect.
Movement: Increase your physicality in 2014. You can start with walking more or riding your bike. If you usually drive to the corner store or to a meeting that’s only a mile away, try riding a bike once a week! The more you do ride your bike or walk, the more it might become a habit. Honestly, there’s no concrete rule about how long habits take to form or break. Instead, look at this as small opportunities for personal change.
Service: Make 2014 your year of being of service! Take a commitment at a meeting and keep it for a year. Volunteer to feed the homeless. Volunteer at an animal shelter once a week. Find a cause you believe in and get involved in raising awareness about it. Being of service is the fulcrum of recovery; “We can’t keep it unless we give it away” is one of the most-often repeated sayings relating to being of service. Write it on something you can always see to remind you to get out of yourself and into action.
No matter your theme or plan, the New Year is a time of reflection and growth. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past year so we can grow into the new one. May you ring this New Year in with self-care, compassion, kindness, and great joy. We wish you a wonderful New Year celebration and look forward to celebrating and growing with you in 2014.
To be resilient/to have resilience is to be able to quickly “bounce back” or “recover from” a traumatic/stressful experience. It’s the ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and get grounded when times are tough.
How do you find your resilience?
Resilience develops when we learn to effectively self-regulate. When we develop the ability to recognize the interconnectivity between our minds and our bodies, noticing their effect on one another, we give our nervous system a chance to reset itself. As we gain resources, our resilience increases, allowing us to “bounce back” more readily than when we are dysregulated. Ultimately, your resources should come from within, because wherever you are, there you are. You can’t escape yourself (trust me, I’ve tried).
Tap into your resources:
Breathe – Breathing is our most magnificent resource. It’s portable and it’s always with us. Exhaling longer than your inhale can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, our internal ER. Try this simple breathing exercise:
Sit in a quiet space where you can relax. Softly close your eyes and begin to notice your breath:
Inhale – one
Exhale – two
Inhale – three
Exhale — four
Do this until you get to 10. Repeat 3 times.
This is a simple mindfulness technique that invites calm. Your parasympathetic nervous system can jump in here, slowing the heart beat and cooling the breath.
Meditation and yoga: both of these are contemplative practices that invite you to get back in touch with your internal mechanisms. With practices like meditation and yoga, your internal resources have permission to flourish.
Do we all have it?
Stressful events happen…to all of us. How we recover from them and process them is contingent on our personal histories. For example, if we are raised in an environment where we are silenced and unheard, then managing stress will be reminiscent of that: we may squash it, bury it, or set it aside. We will try to “deal with it.” In reality, we aren’t dealing with anything when we do that; in fact, we are denying it and allowing it to fester. At the same time, if we are raised in an environment where communication is encouraged, and feelings are met with understanding, one’s resilience to stress will tend to be higher.
Is it easier for some to access resilience than it is for others?
I believe that most people can develop resilience if they have a support system in place and encouragement to work with their shadows and unpack their traumas. However, there needs to be an opportunity available to do this work, or the desire to seek help. If one comes from an impoverished environment, their ability to resource would be limited. At the same time, someone with more options would be more likely to have access to resources, making resilience more easily attainable. I often use myself as a reference when talking about overcoming adversity because I wasn’t provided with the best hand of cards. I definitely had a few jokers in there. What I did have was a deep desire to change my circumstances. This gave my resilience a chance to develop and for that I am grateful. Being an at-risk teen didn’t provide me with a lot of outside resources.
At Visions, we have a remarkable staff of trauma-informed therapists to help families develop resilience. We are forward thinking in our approach to trauma, recognizing that each person requires an individualized process, and understanding the challenges people are faced with when doing this work. At the core, we are lighting the internal fire of hope and healing in our families, empowering each client to discover their ability work with their difficulties in more sustainable, healthy ways. Our nervous systems respond well to kindness and compassion, and with support, these actions can begin to come from ourselves. It means we have to muddle through the shame and grief that plagues us, and give ourselves permission to heal. Recovery is possible; resilience is possible; you are possible.
Forgiveness: It’s something we seek and it’s something we can give others. In recovery, forgiveness is imperative for the healing process to really thrive. In the 12-step process, we do inventories to uncover and discover the grievances we may have with others, and more importantly, with ourselves. But for many of us, this idea of forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are foreign to us. In fact, in some circles, being compassionate and forgiving someone’s foibles is considered a weakness.
First, we must start with forgiving ourselves. The truth is, this is easier said than done. We are stuck with internal tapes on a loupe, reminding us of our insignificance and shame. We are inundated with fractured family systems that influence our self-esteem and self-worth. We are touched by the shame and sometimes self-righteous justification of our reactions. To begin this process of forgiveness and self-compassion takes a willingness to take contrary action and go into the emotional places of discomfort. Learning to love ourselves and be kind to ourselves is hard work. But it’s work well worth doing.
When I was younger, my anger fueled me. In some ways, it was also the thing that protected me. However, when I came to recovery, I was deeply affected by tragedy and trauma. At the same time, my dysfunctional family system projected blame and shame onto me, leaving me bereft of any ability to be kind to myself. When I began to do the inner work required to redefine my paradigm, I was frozen by fear. This wasn’t delicate work; it was an archeological excavation. But I soon realized that if I was to truly be of service and help others, I had to help myself first. If we are an empty well, we ultimately have nothing to give others.
The contemplative practices of yoga and meditation resonate with me, particularly in relation to my recovery. These are the practices that have ultimately shown me the way to being of service, being kind, and having an open heart. There are a series of meditations called the Brahma Viharas. They are the heart practices, typically referred to as metta practice. They are: lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion. In each of these, you focus your energy on phrases that nurture a sense of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion to yourself, someone you love, a benefactor, a difficult person, and then all beings. Often times, it is suggested to focus primarily on yourself in the beginning, sometimes even for the first year of your meditation practice. Cultivating compassion, forgiveness, and love for yourself is, in and of itself, the act of filling your well.
Yoga provides another opportunity: the chance to get back into your body through breath and movement. We can begin to forgive our inflexibility with patience; we can begin to forgive our hyper-flexibility by developing stability. Both meditation and yoga are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, and ultimately finding refuge within. One breath, one kind act of self care at a time.
I am reminded of the phrase, “My Friend, the Enemy.” Within it, compassion and forgiveness come together. When we develop compassion, we begin to develop the space to forgive those who have harmed us, those we resent, or those who continue to suffer. It doesn’t mean that we justify harms done; it means we get to put down the hot coal of anger we’ve been carrying around so our hearts can heal.
It’s been an incredible 9 days of yoga teacher training. I have been cracked open and infused with so many tools, love, support, an incredible community, a mountain of information; it’s not even close to being over! I am just beginning what I believe to be a lifelong process of learning. Sure, when I complete these 200 hours, this particular training will be over, but to me, yoga is something that is always evolving. The body is changing: as we age, as we get injured, heal, go through life changes, it changes, and there is always something to learn.
When I began this journey, I knew from an intellectual space that I would be learning about yoga: postures, how they should be aligned, how trauma presents in the body, how it releases, where the muscles and bones are, et cetera. I knew I was going to learn a lot from these teachers, and I knew that I was going to learn in a unique way. Hala Khouri is a Somatic Experiencing therapist, after all, and she brings that into the way she speaks and teaches. It has been illuminating. I also had a good feeling that there might even be some kind of transformation. I had no idea how much would actually occur.
My teachers are not conventional yoga teachers. They are uniquely themselves, exploring and teaching a non-dualistic path to a reality-based, grounded practice of yoga. They teach us about trauma so we are conscious about keeping our classes safe and grounded. They are teaching us about grounding, orienting and resourcing, terms familiar to me from my understanding of Somatic Experiencing and recovery work, but also applicable in a yoga class. Finding refuge in my body has happened for me on my yoga mat, but that has occurred because I have been fortunate to have teachers skilled in creating a sacred space for their students to have their own liberating experiences. In this yoga teacher training, we are being taught to do the same and that means we need to know how to ground, orient, and provide resourcing options for our students. It is in these ways that we can find refuge within and ultimately have a transformation, no matter how small it may be.
My recovery has never been one-dimensional. As I’ve tacked on more years, I have explored my spiritual paths, finding a calling to dig deeper into the layers of muck within myself that caused me to shrink back in layers of fear, shyness, insecurity, self-loathing, shame, lack of trust, or whatever rose to the surface. It is within the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation where I learned to dance with my fear and face my shadows. It was through those practices, the steps, therapy, and a lot of patience that I learned to shine particles of light into the darkest of places. This yoga teacher training has lifted me up and supported every ounce of my practice, leading me through layers that still need excavating and continues to show me the way to play with my shadow side. I am finding my voice. Ironically, it is the one thing that eludes me. My voice as a writer is strong, but as a public speaker? Forget about it!
So, dear ones, This week rounds out module one. The transformation has been incredibly real. I am more grounded, more open, and more equanimous. I feel more connected to everyone and everything around me. And, more importantly, I feel the most “me” I have ever felt. Let’s dance!
Yoga and Buddhist meditation play an enormous part in my personal story. They are the practices that have allowed me find refuge in my body, courage in my heart, and the fearlessness to walk into the darkness that once plagued me and led me to self-harm, drink, fall apart, and detach. In truth, I find that learning to relate to ourselves better equips us in our ability to relate to others. Because isn’t the ultimate goal really to help others and to be of service?
Today, I begin the first module of my 200-hour yoga teacher training with Julian Walker and Hala Khouri—two individuals I hold in high regard. I had investigated this training (Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind) for 2 years previous and allowed my fear of the adventure and deep personal investigation to get in my way. This time feels different. This time, I was finally ready. I’m grateful for this opportunity and excited to see what will ultimately unfold. Working with trauma has really become the driving force behind my own practice and has become something I’ve found beneficial for the women I work with. Those who work with trauma are inspiring and I understand that if we can unravel the web of hurt and pain, we have an opportunity for real healing, knowing that it takes willingness to feel discomfort and to face the very things that plague us.
I didn’t just want “any” yoga teacher training, I wanted something that would foster my own healing around trauma, my need to be of service and my deep desire to help others change their relationships to their bodies and the traumas we all hold within our physical and emotional structures. This teacher training in particular blends the “ancient and modern, Buddhist and Yogic, anatomical and energetic, spiritual and psychological tools and information” to allow the practitioner/student to truly find their authentic voice in this vast world of spiritual practice, allowing themselves to truly find a space to heal and have a voice.
Check out Julian Walker’s style of yoga and his approach to training in his book, Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind: A Modern Yoga Philosophy Infused with Somatic Psychology & Neuroscience. It’s an interesting, inspiring, heart-opening read. I feel fortunate and deeply honored to be a part of this journey and excited to share whatever unfolds with the Visions community, because in many ways, you all are my heart and what also inspire me to be of service and do what I do. I’ll be journaling this adventure, so stay tuned!
“Compassion is not always nice. We can set boundaries, tell truths and express anger while still being compassionate.” Julian Walker