Radical Kindness

The power of kindness is severely underrated.

Growing up, my mother would emphasize kindness, and I mostly ignored her.   I thought kindness was nice and all, but that what was really impactful was knowledge, intelligence, and education.  Oops.

I’ve been wrong about many things in life, and this was one of them.

There are many theories about psychological change.  There are long-winded titles of things such as “internal object”, “collective unconscious”, and “projective identification”. 

These are all fine and good, but they can’t compete with kindness.  They can’t compete with love.  NOTHING is more therapeutic to anyone than being cared about. 

I’ve witnessed the therapeutic effects of kindness and love so much, that I really don’t need the empirical research to support me, but it just so happens that after years of research showing that it’s the type of treatment that is effective, research has now swung back to showing that it’s the relationship that produces change.  So there we go. 

Now, I’m not saying that technique and theory is unimportant, it is.  I happen to believe that a magic combination between the therapeutic relationship and therapeutic technique creates the most healing environment.   But I also believe that without the relationship, without the kindness, without the love…healing does not come.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  We are hurt by each other, and then we heal with each other.

So my mom was right.  You can have all the fancy knowledge in the world, but without kindness, it’s just hot air.



You Are Not One Thing.

Recently I was reminded that I have not yet figured myself out. 

During some of my own personal work, I discovered a part of myself I wasn’t even aware of.  It wasn’t necessarily good or bad: it was just…surprising.  For years, it had been hanging around in a corner of my being waiting to be found.  It threw me off for a few days because I had to make space for it within the rest of my identity. 

I am no stranger to introspection, it’s what I do naturally and what I do for a living, so I, of all people should understand that we are never really done knowing ourselves.   But still, it was both humbling and invigorating to remember just how mysterious and vast each of us is.   

It reminds me of this quote by Walt Whitman from his epic poem “Song of Myself”:

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)” 

Self-discovery never ends and is full of endless surprises.  You are not one thing.  You are not even many things.  You are thousands and millions of things.  You are traits, upon experiences, upon connections, upon weather systems, upon dimly lit crevices within you psyche.  You contain multitudes and those multitudes will continue to surprise you your whole life as you explore and discover them and see how each fits and contradicts and compliments.   

For those of you who feel weak at this moment, know you are also strength.  For those of you who feel strong at this moment, know you are also weak.  You contain so much more than what is operating right now.  In a single life you will experience countless changing feelings and identities and they all belong.  

You are not exactly who you think you are.  You are much more.

"You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in."

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Turn to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.


David Whyte

House of Belonging

Acceptance. What it Is…and Isn’t.

You may have been hearing people talk about acceptance more and more in past years, particularly those people who have been introduced to mindfulness, yoga, or many other mind/body approaches. 

People promise that it’s good for us to accept, but what do we actually MEAN by acceptance?  And maybe more importantly, what don’t we mean?  Acceptance, as it’s meant to be understood in Mindfulness or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is a nuanced concept.

Initially you might think, “Okay, I’m being told to accept everything.  Guess I’m going to just give up, throw in the towel, and wait for the end to come.  I’m not supposed to care about anything…I suppose that’s one way to fix my problems. (insert eye roll)”.

That is precisely NOT what acceptance is.  Acceptance does not mean giving up, not acting to make our lives better, or not caring about anything. Acceptance is allowing yourself to be fully present to whatever experience is already happening without trying to judge it, fight it or alter it.  As so eloquently put by Dr. Kelly Wilson, acceptance “is more like opening up than is it like giving up”.

Why would we want to do that?

Because fighting the reality of an experience wastes energy, causes even more distress, and reduces our ability to effectively respond to that experience.

Say you are about to go into a job interview and you are nervous and your hands are sweating.  You might say to yourself, “I can’t do this” or “I need to make my hands stop sweating.”  You are now judging and fighting your experience and because of it, your distress has gone even higher (i.e., you are distressed about your distress).  Not only are you nervous, but you are also judging that your experience of being nervous is unacceptable and must be changed.

Imagine now if you just notice without judgment and accepted your nervousness.  Instead of trying to stop your hands from sweating (which is a fool’s errand) and stop your feelings of nervousness, you open up to them.  This might look like the following:


You let those nerves wash over you, letting them touch every part of you.


You notice your sweating hands.  You feel their clamminess.


You notice your thoughts of “This is horrible” and “I’m so embarrassed”.   You don’t try to stop those thoughts or judge them.  You just see them go through your mind.


When you open up like this you change your experience into what it is: An experience.  That’s it.  It is just an experience.  Sure you don’t like it, and you don’t have to, but it is still just an experience. 

By seeing it in this way you take away some of its power and you build resilience and a greater capacity to handle the situation.  You are also able to have more flexibility in the moment, because you are not rigidly fixated on what must be.  This leads to better problem solving in the midst of stress. 

So the next time you are trying to infuse a little acceptance into your day, remind yourself “I am opening up, I am not giving up.”  Then let your experience wash over you.


If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s this:

When you lift up others, you lift up yourself.

Giving to others is good for us.  There is now lots of research support for this phenomenon (including that giving might even help us live longer), but I think most of us implicitly know this.  We pay someone a visit, shovel out a neighbor’s yard, find that extra special gift…these things make us feel good.

Giving doesn’t have to be a big gesture - many times it’s the intention and oomph behind our action that really counts.  On a busy day at the store as you finally approach the checkout clerk, paste a huge smile on your face and REALLY wish them a good day.  Watch their eyes light up as you genuinely smile and ask them how they are doing.  It’s a small thing, but it shifts both of you into a different space in that moment.

Giving to others ranks right up there with gratitude and optimism as some of the best funk busters around.  Feeling down?  I urge you to go to the store, pick out a card and write a friend a note just saying hello.  By the time that note gets a stamp placed on it, you will feel better.

These are not fancy psychological techniques that require treatment or training; they are things all of us can do each day to improve our own mental health.  They are tried and true, but often forgotten on the days we feel the worst.  So I urge you to build up your mental muscle memory to think about others when you find yourself feeling down.  Make it a habit to do something to help another whenever you don’t feel well yourself and you will find yourself feeling better more quickly.

The bonus is that whomever you are helping, or grinning at, or sending a letter to, will feel better, too.  A win for everyone.

Source: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/it...

Let Life Change You

Life.  It’s unexpected. 

Think about how you thought your life was going to be 10 years ago…20 years ago.  What you imagined is different than what actually happened, right?

Maybe you thought you would live in a large city, but ended up in a small town. Maybe you were going to get that Masters degree but then your dad got ill.  Maybe you were never going to have children and now you have three.  Maybe you were going to have four, but can have none.

These are things that happen, in some form or another, to all of us.  Life never goes completely as planned.  Maybe our unexpected change of plans turn out to be a delight.  But maybe we experience changes in plans that are utterly heartbreaking.

As a therapist, I often see people who are going through scenarios they never expected.  It could be job loss, a divorce, anxiety, depression, illness, trauma, or a hundred other difficulties.

So what do we do when we ordered a delicious cream tart from life and get delivered a wallop to the face instead?

One thing that all people do when faced with hardship is change.  But we can change in many different ways.  We could become angry and not trust life or people anymore.  That might be the response that makes the most sense.  Just think about the Syrian refugees.

Anger and bitterness have their place and I believe are needed emotions, but they are emotions that cannot be maintained forever without corroding the individual who is feeling them.  Eventually, if our human spirit is going to survive, we must let these experiences change us in a more nourishing way.  Feeling deeper connections to others who are suffering, feeling a greater sense of one’s own resilience (usually resilience we didn’t know we had), and feeling a greater bond with whatever you personally value in life are all ways in which we can be changed for the better. 

With experience comes potential mastery.  With difficult experience comes potentially even more mastery, more resilience, more empathy, and more perspective.  These are hard, hard won prizes, but if you have to go through the difficulties anyway, don’t you want the prize?


In the midst of great challenge, these are often the questions I ask my clients:

1)   Someday, when this has resolved and you are looking back on it, how do you want to say you handled this problem?

2)   Someday, what do you want to say you learned from this?

3)   Who do you want to be right now?

4)   If you have no choice but to go through this, what do you want it to bring out in you? 

5)   How do you become the hero of this story?

These questions give us a broader perspective on the expansiveness that is our own life.  They remind us that whatever we are going through is not forever.  They remind us that although we may not be able to control our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to those circumstances.  And ultimately, if we must be changed, we can choose how we change.

So, how do you want to say that life changed you?


I have had a hard last couple of weeks. 

I’ve had a long-term issue with my spine since childhood.  Without going into details, there are a lot of muscular imbalances along the course of my spine, causing vertebrae to twist and turn, throwing my body out of alignment.  For many years, the twist in my neck was so severe, it kept my jaw joint dislocated so that I wasn’t able to talk.  That time was extremely difficult, and I am thankful every day I am past that hardship.

Part of my treatment entails manipulating my soft tissues so that my spine will untwist and function normally again.  Usually, this goes well and each day I feel a little better.  It takes work, hours of physical therapy and treatments each day, but that’s okay, I’m more than happy to work hard to get better.  However, sometimes changes in one part of the spine throw the alignment off in the jaw and I am unable to talk once again until all the soft tissue issues in that area have been worked out.

That rarely happens anymore.  But two weeks ago, I hit a rough patch and found myself unable to talk for many days in a row.  My initial thought was, “This can’t happen.  I have clients to see.”

But it was happening and I became anxious and worried…very anxious and worried.  I couldn’t cancel on my clients!

After I settled myself down a bit, I asked myself two questions:


1)   What would I tell my clients if they were going through this?

2)   How can I exercise compassion toward my clients and myself in this situation?


The answers that came to me were simple, but harder to execute.   Of course I would tell my clients to do what they needed to do to get better.  I would tell them that life throws everyone curve balls and that it’s our reactions to the curveballs that matters.  I would remind them that there is much in life we cannot control.  I would tell them that all we can do is our best and treat everyone around us with consideration and kindness, including ourselves.  For me, that kindness to my clients included letting them know more about the situation and trying as well as I could to inform them about how long that I might be unable to meet.   The kindness to myself included trying not to beat up on myself for needing to cancel with clients.

While thinking about all of this, I was reminded how it is often harder for us to be kind to ourselves than it is to be kind to others. 

My clients were all tremendously supportive and encouraging of me to take care of myself.  They showed me the compassion I was having a hard time extending to myself and I am so thankful to them for that.  I hope they can show themselves that same compassion as life throws them curveballs.

Yes, so 2016 began with a curveball for me, but I’m trying to practice what I preach.  Compassion.  I’ll be on the mend soon and look forward to working with my clients again.

If it’s good enough for Steph Curry and the Warriors…

The Golden State Warriors are on an unprecedented winning streak (20 straight games), set to break the NBA’s all time Most Consecutive Wins record in a matter of games.  They are a thrill to watch, especially Steph Curry’s gutsy, what-the-heck, 3-point shots lofted up as far back as the center court line.

The team has become known for their great chemistry, so it fascinated me when I came across an article about the Warrior’s core values.  They are:


1.     Joy

2.     Mindfulness

3.     Compassion

4.     Competition


I love this, not only because it aligns with many of the values I encourage in my clients, but also because it’s working for the Warriors.  It’s not just some fluffy, feel-good, nonsense.  These guys are winning games, and having fun doing it, showing that you can be joyful and compassionate and still win.  Maybe even win more.     

I imagine playing with joy helps them feel more loose and reminds them of why they play basketball in the first place.  People who exercise compassion for themselves, others, and even institutions (like basketball), feel more connected and would likely equate into more collaborative play and chemistry on the court.

Mindfulness, which can be called many things, involves being aware of what is happening in and around you and being open and flexible in your behavior.  Something that helps anyone perform better. 

In my experience, many of us are taught that we have to be tough to survive.  There are circumstances where this is true.  But I think there are ways to be tough, joyful, compassionate, and mindful while still being successful.  The added bonus is that you will feel lighter and more connected while you succeed. 

I suggest you try some compassion and joy on for size.  It’s working for the Warriors.  Steph Curry scored 28 points in one quarter last night, 40 points overall.

Source: http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2015...

The Energy of Love

There are more and more writers who not only see God in evolution but who see God as actually evolving.  This can all get pretty philosophical, but it is also extraordinarily beautiful and poetic.  Teilhard de Chardin is one such writer.  He was a French philosopher, Jesuit priest, and paleontologist.  He was a thinker who could draw upon both his scientific and religious backgrounds.

Below is a quote of text from Richard Rohr, a spiritual teacher and Franciscan monk, who has used Teilhard’s teachings in his own work.

“…Teilhard de Chardin ‘spoke of evolution as the emergence of consciousness and complexity. As entities become more complex in nature, consciousness increases or develops. . . . Teilhard sought to articulate a new philosophy based on the energy of love. His ontology of love is thus a radical shift from the world of being as substance to a world of love-energy and consciousness.’  In other words, the very physical structure of the universe is love or mutual allurement.”

Ponder that for a moment.

The very physical structure of the universe is love or mutual allurement.

A beautiful idea, no?

"Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried."

Today I am sharing a blog post by Tim Lawrence about the grief and pain in life that cannot be fixed.

What he captures well is that some tragedies, sorrows, and heartbreak never have answers. The death of a child, a random accident that alters a life forever, the holocaust, slavery - whether individual or global - human life is full of pain and unanswered whys.

What our society doesn't teach well, is that pain is more easily carried and endured when others do not look away from it. Rather than try to answer the question why, it is often best to just sit with someone, letting them know that you are there, you see them and you see their pain.

That is often all that can be done. And make no mistake: It is a lot.


Doing It Anyway

Within the last decade, there has been a revolution of sorts in therapy techniques.  What are now being called the 3rd wave cognitive behavioral therapies are gaining momentum as research demonstrates the effectiveness of these therapies.  ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is one of these 3rd wave treatments and it places less emphasis on changing your thoughts and more emphasis on accepting your thoughts, whatever they are, and not letting them stop you from doing what you value.

Traditional CBT identifies maladaptive patterns of thoughts and seeks to try to replace these thought patterns with more accurate ones.  For instance, say I have the thought “I am stupid”.  That thought is both upsetting and likely untrue.  Further, this thought may prevent whoever thinks it from engaging in things they find enjoyable.  Maybe they would like to play cards, propose a project at work, or remodel a room in their home.  The thought, “I am stupid” may prevent them from doing any of these things. 

Many therapists would work with that person to help them see that this is a mistaken thought and that there are many examples that show that person to be skillful and clever.  Hopefully in time, that person would see that they have many intellectual talents and then propose that project at work or remodel that room.  In the process, their mood would improve.

ACT handles these distressing thoughts differently.  It basically says, “We are humans, we have all kinds of random thoughts, some distressing and some not, many not even remotely true and we don’t need to listen to them.”  Instead of wrestling with these thoughts, why not let them come along for the ride (because they might anyway), but still do all the things that you value and bring you meaning. 

Research suggests that trying to get these distressing thoughts to stop (i.e., thought suppression) actually increases the thoughts anyway.  There are linguistic reasons for this that are part of the ACT theory, but for now, just do the experiment of not trying to think of a pink elephant and see what happens.  You know what happens...

You’re thinking of the pink elephant, aren’t you?

One of the most powerful parts of ACT that you can start putting into action today is doing it anyway.  Say you’re having all kinds of negative and doubting thoughts about that halloween costume you really want to try out.  “People won’t get it.” “The robot’s head will look too big.” “It’s too much for this party.”  But you REALLY want to wear this costume.  This costume is calling to you.  You’ve dreamed of this costume since childhood.  

Don’t argue with those thoughts, just let them be, and put that costume on and walk out the door.

Obviously a halloween costume isn’t life or death, but this strategy of just acknowledging your thoughts, but not letting them stop you and not trying to stop them can be applied to many areas of your life.  You can co-exist, peacefully.

Seeing Similarities

I am watching the primary debates right now.  Even though the candidates are each on the same “side” and will all move toward the middle during the general election, they are trying to highlight their differences.  Rest assured that the media will amplify these differences and the headlines tomorrow will be about conflict and disagreement.

Whether or not this works well for political candidates is a discussion for another time, but, in general, focusing on our differences does not lead to good mental health.  Instead, it leads to feelings of distance, loneliness, judgment, insecurity and/or superiority.  These feelings are just the opposite of what research and personal experience tell us leads to happiness: social connection.

Most people rank their relationships with others as their greatest source of happiness, and this only increases with age.  We are wired for social connection.   There are hormones that our bodies produce (e.g., oxytocin) during positive social interactions that benefit us in myriad ways.  Socializing is literally a drug for us.  But you already know this – just imagine talking to one of the people you love most in the world.  That good feeling you’re having…that’s the power of social connections.

Yet, think about how often we keep ourselves from connecting with each other by focusing on our differences.  The human mind loves to classify, divide, and group. Who are we like, who is our age, who do we disagree with, who do we agree with, who is taller, who is richer/poorer, who is more charming, who has a better/worse job.  We have categories for just about everything, and specific social classifications such as yuppie, baby-boomer, millennial, hippie, hipster, jock, nerd, and so on. 

I believe that if we entered our social interactions by first thinking about our similarities, no matter how difficult to find at first, that our human connections would vastly improve and we would begin from a place of understanding, compassion, and shared history with our fellow humans.  From that place, we could celebrate our diversity within a common experience of “sameness”.

Next time you find yourself with a random person you don’t know, give yourself a moment to think of all the ways this person may be just like you.  Maybe they are feeling rushed or maybe they look a little shy and you can relate.  Maybe they look utterly unperturbed and stone cold, but know that, they too, have been frazzled at some point in their lives. 

Try this out a bit.  You’ll give your mind a chance to be creative and you’ll probably find yourself feeling better.