Review: Weighted Blanket

For those of you who haven’t heard, there is this thing out there called a weighted blanket style=. The story goes that it was developed by a guy who has a child with sensory issues. They were out driving one day and she put a Beanie Baby on his shoulders. He thought, “Wow, this feels nice. I wonder what it would be like to have a whole blanket made like this?” So, he created it. Lo and behold, he found out that his child calmed down and was more regulated after sleeping with the blanket.

How Does the Weighted Blanket Work?

How does it work? Well, have you seen the movie Temple Grandin? It’s based on the real life adventures of Temple Grandin, a woman with Autism. In the movie Temple goes to her aunt’s cattle ranch and observes that they use a “squeeze machine” to keep the cattle calm. She knew that she could get really overwhelmed and disregulated and wondered if something like that would help her. She made one and found out that it did.

The squeeze machine and weighted blanket work in the same way. They provide input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body. Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe. It even works with people who can’t tolerate touch otherwise (such as those with Autism).

What Symptoms Can It Help?

According to a many sources, people may see relief in the following symptoms after using a weighted blanket

  • aggression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • pain
  • depression
  • mania
  • psychosis
  • paranoia

Some hospitals are using it. One manufacturer, Cozy Calm, even went through the process of getting their blanket classified as a medical device so that insurance would cover it.

Does It Work?

If you know me, you know I like self-help and I like gadgets. I will try anything once to see if it will work. So, I bought a 16 pound blanket that was big enough to fit over the body. It has flannel on one side and fleece on the other.

The first thing I noticed was that the blanket was a lot heavier than I thought it would be. Blankets come in ranges of about ten pounds to eighteen pounds. The recommended weight will depend on your size. Personal preference will also factor in. Once I got used to it, sixteen pounds was just fine.

The fabric is soft. I like that there were two choices. If you don’t like the way one feels, you can flip it over. This could be a big deal for someone with sensory issues. This also makes a difference as far as how warm the blanket is. Trust me. You don’t want fleece against your skin in the summer. It’s really hot!

Lots of people with sensory issues have sensitivities to chemicals. The blanket I got was filled with non-toxic plastic beads. The fabric was also all natural cotton.

My blanket just covered the body. You can get bigger ones that cover the whole bed. They say that these can be too heavy. The problem with the body sized one is that if you plan on sleeping with it and move at all, the blanket will fall off. I don’t generally have sleep issues, but the heavy blanket falling off and piling up beside me was pretty disruptive. I think if I were to do it over again, I’d go with the bed sized blanket. It’s more expensive, but it won’t fall off if I turn while sleeping.

I am really kinesthetic, so I enjoy the feel of this blanket a lot. People say it has a grounding effect. I totally agree with that. As far as symptom relief of the things listed above, I couldn’t say. I don’t have any of those problems, but based on my experience, I would say it’s worth a try. There is no downside.

You Can’t Think Your Way to Spirituality

spirituality

Once there was a well known philosopher and scholar who devoted himself to the study of Zen for many years. On the day that he finally attained enlightenment, he took all of his books out into the yard and burned them all. ~Zen parable

A lot of people approach spirituality from a head space. They read a book, or maybe lots of books, and then adopt the ideas as their own philosophy. The problem with that is that you can’t think your way to spirituality. It is something that comes from the heart, the gut. It is something that you feel. When it is present, you have a sense of knowing about it. When you approach it from a head space, it’s just intellectual stuff that doesn’t penetrate your bones. It’s got to be in your bones (or embodied) in order to be of any use to you.

There is nothing wrong with books. I am a bibliophile of the highest order. I read incessantly. But when your life is lived through your head, you aren’t really living. The purpose of a human incarnation is to be physical – in the body. The body records everything. It reflects everything. It is the truth teller.

The mind lies. It is a reflection of programming. Programming can be faulty. All our invalidating beliefs are a result of programming. The mind is also a great way to escape your physical reality. Worry and anxiety are means of distracting us from our physical reality. When you think your way to spirituality, you’re actually avoiding living it. You give the illusion of being plugged in when you haven’t left your head.

So, what do you do? When you come across a new idea, or even an old one, that you believe enhances your life, embrace it. Live it. Don’t just give lip service to it. Don’t say, “I believe the Universe wants me to be happy.” Live that. Show through your actions and deeds that this is your truth. Let your heart feel it. Check with your body to see if it actually is your truth.

If you are a spiritual seeker or self-improvement junkie, stop going to workshops for a while and let whatever you have learned sink in. If you have work to do, do it. You can’t get a new idea in unless you make space for it. You do that by letting the stuff that is no longer useful out. Stop thinking. Stop doing and be. If it’s painful, be with that. Nothing lasts forever. This won’t either if you just let it be. No resisting. No justifying. Just be.

Chasing knowledge isn’t a way to enlightenment. Acquiring and implementing wisdom is. To do that you have to slow down and be.

Accepting an idea because it sounds like a good idea isn’t the same thing as living in your truth. The self becomes unbalanced and diseased when it’s not in truth. If you are always embodied, you will always know the truth. Your body will tell you. You won’t need a book, a guru, a therapist or a chaplain to confirm it. You will just know.

Getting in touch with your spirituality is a great healing tool. Heck, it’s a great life enhancer. If you want to access it, you need to get out of your head. If you want to live it, let it flow from the mind, body, and heart.

 

How to Neutralize Fear

fear

What is Fear?

Fear is the expectation of pain.

Some fears are instinctual, such as fear of falling/heights and fear of loud noises. All the rest are learned – usually by the age of six. Learned fears are the result of thinking about something in the future and anticipating that it will cause you pain. Fear does not exist in the present. It doesn’t exist in the past. It exists in your head.

What is the Function of Fear?

All emotions have a purpose. Instinctive fears exist to keep us safe. When we respond to danger, the fear goes away. It happens almost instantaneously. However, since most fears are learned, we can hold on to them forever! As long as you are thinking about a bad thing that happened or a bad thing that could have happened, you are keeping fear alive. This fear isn’t keeping you safe. It’s making you sick.

How We Misuse Fear

When fear keeps you from living a full and happy life, it is being misused. Fear is not there to keep you immobilized. It is simply there as a warning signal. Some people like their fear because they think that it keeps them from getting into trouble. Fear is irrational. We can get reactive to all sorts of things that aren’t actually dangerous. Fear can keep us from going to college, going out on dates, being social, eating certain foods, engaging in sports, falling in love, or getting a job. Those things aren’t helpful.

Everyone will experience pain. It’s inevitable. When you try to put yourself in a protective bubble to avoid danger, you also avoid life. The better thing to do is to become more skillful in life so that things aren’t threatening and neutralize fear.

How to Neutralize Fear

Since fear is about projecting expectations onto future events, you can neutralize it by being present. Whatever you are concerned about isn’t happening now. There is no need to feel fearful now because it isn’t happening now. Here is a story that illustrates how this works.

A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen master came to him, “Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.” Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.

Relaxation also reduces fear. All emotions are accompanied by physiological changes. A fearful body is a tense body. If you reduce tension, you also reduce fear. If you are completely relaxed, you can’t feel fear at all.

Sometimes knowledge reduces fear, but this isn’t very reliable. Learning about the benefits of snakes, the rarity of snake bites, and which ones are actually dangerous doesn’t tend to help with a fear of snakes. Although fear is created and sustained by your thoughts, it’s not a rational thing.

However, there is a cognitive skill that can help. You can cope with fear by anticipating something useful, instead of pain, as the outcome. It may be hard to imagine that you would feel joyous at the dentist’s office, but you can probably anticipate that you will look better or feel better. You might be able to wonder what it would be like if something wonderful happened (like your dentist was very kind and gentle or this was the first time that you didn’t freak out at the dentist’s office).

When we say things like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Every cloud has a silver lining” we are looking for the opposite possibility in a presumably negative situation. This can help you to make sense of your reality and cope with it. It keeps you from being overwhelmed by all the possible negatives in life. It keeps you balanced and grounded.

How to Make Fear Useful

All emotions have a purpose. When we allow the emotion to alert us to its function, then acknowledge the function and let the emotion go, our emotions serve their purpose. For example, the purpose of fear is to alert us to danger or keep us safe. You can make fear useful by doing something about the danger.

If I feel fear when viewing a spider, I can slow down and think, “How can I create safety in this moment?” There are many options. I can leave the room. I can kill the spider. I can rationalize that I am not really in danger. If I act on any one of them, there is no longer any need to fear.

If I feel fear when watching the evening news, I can get more information about the story. I can turn the news off. I can go speak with a friend or expert about the problem. I can talk about my fears. I can take action to address the problem. All of these things have the potential to create safety in the moment. As long as I am not projecting fear into the future and stay present, the fear will go away.

Fear is just a warning sign. Sometimes there is an actual danger. Sometimes there is not. The first step is to get present. Then assess the danger. Then act. When you get to the end of that three step process, the fear tends to be gone. It will stay gone as long as you are in the present moment.

The Story is Not Important

story doesn't matter

Trust me when I tell you, the story is not important. Figuring it out, understanding it, or worrying about it won’t make it the pain or the story go away. It won’t make you heal from it. Understanding it doesn’t speed anything along. To illustrate this point, allow me to share a famous story as told by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The Buddha always told his disciples not to waste their time and energy in metaphysical speculation. Whenever he was asked a metaphysical question, he remained silent. Instead, he directed his disciples toward practical efforts. Questioned one day about the problem of the infinity of the world, the Buddha said, “Whether the world is finite or infinite, limited or unlimited, the problem of your liberation remains the same.”

Another time he said, “Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If he were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first.” Life is so short. It must not be spent in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth.

Why is not important. Who did what to whom is not important. The story is not important. What is important is the pain and stopping the pain.

If you know that you are triggered by something (such as someone hurt your feelings; someone didn’t care about something in the same way that you did; or you can’t stop thinking about someone), you don’t have to rehash every detail of that to figure it out. There is nothing to figure out. You already have all the information that you need. That information is that you are holding on to something that hurts you.

Just release the trigger so that it no longer has the power to hurt you.

Stories give events context. That’s all. If jealousy is your trigger, you probably have many stories around that that highlight that for you. If insecurity is your trigger, you probably have a lot of stories about that. If it’s your weight, not feeling loved, feeling lonely, or feeling invisible, there are probably many stories around that.

The problem isn’t what others are doing to you. You have no control over others. What this situation is showing you is your work, your challenge areas. It’s about how are you going to liberate yourself from this thing that triggers you. When you look at it this way, being triggered becomes a gift because it shows you how you can grow beyond your current limitations. Becoming lost in your story keeps you stuck where you are.

When shot with an arrow, remove it. Engage in practical efforts to resolve the problem. Since you are in control of you, you have a really great shot at making a complete recovery. If, after that, you still want to understand the story, go back and investigate. I think you may find that it has lost its importance because the need to know tends to be a way to avoid healing. Once you have learned from your life, the story tends to lose all significance.

Keyed Up? Maybe You Need to Play

play

From the time we are very small children, we are taught to avoid imagination, work hard, get serious, learn, and “act their age.” Even dix year olds spend about eight hours in school! That’s a lot of time growing your brain. That takes away from growing your heart and gut/intuition. That can keep us from being fully functional, balanced adults.

If you are:

  • keyed up
  • stressed out
  • feeling uninspired
  • a perfectionist
  • experiencing interpersonal issues
  • depressed
  • anxious

maybe you need to play. Play? Adults? Yes, adults can play.

“Play” means to do something for amusement or without any purpose at all. Most kids do that effortlessly. Remember riding your bike all day, playing in the swimming pool, or jumping rope all day long? You never thought about being tired, that paper you had to write next week, or anything except being right there in that moment. By the time we are pre-teens, most of us have learned to feel bad about doing something without a purpose. We learn to always do our best. When we do things like play sports, we go at it hard and with a competitive attitude. When we create art, it’s with a judgmental eye. Even exercise isn’t “good” if we didn’t hit a goal or make ourselves sore. So even our leisure activities are work!

Making time for play is beneficial for people of all ages. It makes life more fun. It can be relaxing as well as stimulating. Play can boost your creativity, imagination, problem-solving skills, relationships, and enhance mood. Play is especially good for people who have experienced trauma as it helps to reorganize the brain. George Bernard Shaw even said, “We don’t stop playing because we’ve grown old. We grow old when we stop playing.”

What types of things can you do to bring play into your life?

  • Laugh. Lighten up. Humor heals. It bonds. If you are tempted to get angry, see if there is a funny side to the situation.
  • Flirt. An effective flirt is creative. It takes some brain power to use your body language and words in a way that is playfully sexy. Flirting can create new relationships and keep old ones fresh.
  • If you are in a position of authority at your workplace, you can incorporate a “recess” or some sort of recreation break. Perhaps you can get a dart board, foos ball table, or ping pong table for short breaks. Productivity increases where creativity breaks are allowed. If this can’t be done, perhaps bringing Uno, playing cards, Legos, or board games into the lunchroom can help with bonding and a sense of play.
  • Tell jokes. It will keep your heart and that of others light. Just be sure to keep it clean and harmless.
  • Play with your pets. Dogs like playing frisbee or to chase a ball. Cats like playing with laser pointers. If you do it with a spirit of fun, rather than just to exercise your animal, it’s fun for you too.
  • Keep a toy box. Fill it with solitary play toys like dolls, coloring books, army men, art supplies, Play-doh, or puppets. Make a date to play with them regularly.
  • Come up with a word game. Play it with one or more people. If you are good at remembering song lyrics, look for opportunities to slip in song lyrics into conversation naturally. If you are good at movie lines, see who can slip the most movie lines into conversation while still making sense. It could be famous one liners or anything like that.
  • Let your kids take the lead. Ask them what they want to do and then follow their lead. Little kids usually don’t have any problem being entertained with the smallest things like catching butterflies, building sand castles, playing music, or watching the river roll by.
  • You know how in musicals people just burst out in song? Do that! If the spirit moves you, sing!
  • When a song lifts your heart and makes you feel like dancing, dance. Too often we stop ourselves from doing what our spirit wants to express because we want to be appropriate and grown up. Don’t stifle your soul!
  • You could join a dance, sports, or exercise class IF it’s not competitive. Remember the whole point is fun, not winning, getting in shape or learning something. Those are great secondary benefits, but if it’s the primary motivation, it’s no longer play.
  • Learn a magic trick or two. Show people. Laugh and mystify your friends.

Life is not just about “he who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s not about striving and dying. If you are feeling stagnant, anxious, depressed or stuck, it’s probably time to do more playing. Balance is key. Most of us know how to do. Not everyone knows how to not do or to do that well. Playing can help with that. It’s healthy. Give yourself permission to play. Everybody needs to play.

How Do You Stay Safe?

stay safe

We all have ways of staying safe. They are our go to strategies for keeping life from spiraling out of control. Sometimes we make them ways of living. Sometimes we reach for them under stress.

Some strategies are more adaptive than others because they help us and others around us. Some strategies are good for short term problem solving, but not long term survival. They get us out of hot water, but may disrupt our lives, relationships, or keep us from growing. It may make more sense if we look some common strategies in more detail. So, let’s look at how do you stay safe.

Intellect

People who use intellect to stay safe find safety in data. They need to understand things. If they can understand data, they can make sense of the world and feel that things are predictable, controllable, and stable. Sometimes intellectuals are nervous because they don’t trust the data. They keep checking it, learning more, or asking more “what if” questions. Some intellectuals trust the data and find peace with it. In fact, they may also learn more and more things because it allows them to understand more. That understanding creates peace.

Emotional outbursts/Sensitivity

Some people create safety by developing sensitive feelers. These feelers pick up real and perceived threats faster than your average person. They can react with emotional outbursts to throw the aggressor off the scent. The emotions are used to confuse and diffuse so that the issue is never directly addressed. This can create safety in the moment- but at a high cost. The emotional episodes are very draining for the person experiencing them and people around them. The issue that was avoided also doesn’t get resolved.

Zoning Out/Numbing

There are times when we’re all overstimulated. We live in an society of constant sensory overload. So it’s understandable if you feel the need to zone out every now and then. When used as a coping strategy, it probably indicates that there has been a high degree of stress over a long period of time that hasn’t been resolved. It does get you through the crisis, but it leaves you emotionally numb. This can be deceptive because it could appear that you are pretty chill. If you are never really feel anything intensely, you could be numb.

Fighting

An obvious coping strategy for stress is fighting or becoming verbally aggressive. This strategy helps you to stay safe by intimidating the other person to back off. It can make you feel powerful and in control. That also makes you feel safe. Sometimes fighting is required, like if someone wants to manipulate you into paying more for something that you should or if you are being physically attacked.  You don’t generally want to do this with people you intend to have an ongoing relationship with however. Fighting tends to deteriorate relationships as you take away the other person’s power. Who likes that feeling?

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior is when you feel like you want to stand up for yourself, but can’t do it directly. So you do it in an underhanded way. This doesn’t really provide safety, but it may make you feel like you got revenge for being trespassed against. It may leave you feeling like you got revenge. Of course, what you send out comes back to you, so this is not a healthy strategy at any time.

Playing Small

People who over apologize, make themselves the butt of the joke, and put others ahead of themselves stay safe by playing small. Playing small makes you more of a target by others in some ways. In other ways, it makes you more of one. If you come across those who need to feel powerful or are the type to take advantage of others, you’re more likely to be taken advantage of as a soft target. This could make your self-esteem even lower.

Loving/Giving

Some make themselves safe by being lovers and givers. These people tend to be really nice to be around. They smile, hug, provide warm chocolate chip cookies, and make things look pretty and comfortable. They are the teddy bears of the world. Very rarely are they ever attacked. The problem with this strategy is that while these people are really good at anticipating the needs of others, they are rarely in touch with their own. They can get mad when they are not given the same consideration that they give others, but they aren’t good at receiving it when they do! This is a no win proposition!

Succeeding

Ah! Nothing succeeds like success, eh? What could be wrong with staying safe by being a success? Attainment is great. It doesn’t matter if the goal is sports, art, education, business, or teaching. You learn along the way, grow in strength, and in confidence. There is nothing wrong with that… unless it’s a way to avoid the conflict that comes with messy things like emotions and relationships. You can’t hug a trophy. Your yacht won’t love you back. It may feel really lonely and unfulfilling to achieve success without the warmth of someone to share it with.

Bulldozing

We laugh at the “I do what I want” memes. Some of us really live it. They avoid fear and stay safe by bulldozing anyone who gets in their way. They live through power and domination. It’s not that they push everyone around all the time. Sometimes they don’t have a dog in the fight. When they do, they are hard to reason with and don’t consider others. We might be envious of such courage and strength, but being on the receiving end of it usually isn’t pleasant. This can create loneliness.

What to Do Instead

Most of these strategies can work for some people some of the time. The problem is when they are over used or used to the point of making your life unbalanced. What works better is to step into your power, but don’t take more than what is yours. Everyone has power. Everyone needs power. If you give yours away, you hurt yourself. If you take more than is yours, you hurt others. We’re all happier when we neither hurt other nor hurt ourselves.

Live mindfully. When you are here now, things that may trigger you when you are in a reactive state could pass by unnoticed because you see that they aren’t harming you now. When you are present, you are also more reasonable and can reach for more effective skills. For example, if my go to skill is to smash someone with my wit, I may realize that what I might gain is not worth the effort. So I may let a slight pass.

Living mindfully may also help you to be more self-aware. If you become aware of what tweaks you, it gives you a starting point for working to diffuse that thing as a trigger. If you get defensive or scared when someone implies something about your looks, manner of speech, or clothes, perhaps your ego could use strengthening. If you go into defense mode when someone appears to want intimacy, maybe you have trust issues. Whatever it is, it’s a lot easier to address the issue head on than to die a hundred little deaths each time the issue comes up.

Cultivate balance. Succeeding is great. Everyone wants to reach their goals. If you make it about the journey instead of having something to prove, you may enjoy it more. You may also find that you have time for relationships, relaxation, and developing other things that make life enjoyable.

Death is Part of Life

death is part of life

Does anyone else ever marvel at how unnatural our lives have become? For example, we send women off to germ filled hospitals to have babies. Up until the 1950s, most births were home births. Now all of sudden birth has become a medical issue.

And what about sex? It’s something that our kids find out about in school as part of health and hygiene. We learn how to do it by watching it on HBO. If there isn’t screaming, arching, and scratching it’s boring. Really?

The really puzzling one for me is death. Other than funerals, we have no rites or traditions around death. We just send people away to hospitals to die. There is no preparation for the dying person or the surviving family. It’s just something that happens mysteriously. We have three days of mourning and then it’s over.

Death can be traumatizing – for the dead person (the spirit still lives) and survivors.  When we see death is part of life, this can help to make the transition easier. So the time to prepare for it is long before it happens. How?

Start by investigating what you believe. Don’t just accept what you always thought because it is what your parents said. Learn about it. Research it. Is this truly what you believe? If it is, and it brings you comfort, embrace it. If it’s not, find something that you can embrace wholeheartedly.

Spend a little time each day being mindful. Observe the cycle of life. Notice when new plants sprout or when baby ducks are born. Notice when the leaves fall each autumn. Spend a little time thinking about your mortality. Have you used this day wisely? Contrary to some beliefs, this isn’t morbid. Accepting death can help you to appreciate the time that you have, make wiser use of it, and live more mindfully. It can also take away the fear of dying.

Investigate the spiritual practices and beliefs of other cultures. It may help you to fill in the blanks of your own thoughts. For instance, did you know the Day of the Dead could date back as far as 3,000 years? It is a festival where the living bring gifts to the dead who come back to visit. Why do they this? It’s a memorial, but it’s also an appeasement of spirits. If your ancestors know you are happy, they can stay peacefully in the spirit world. When they come to visit, it’s also time to ask them for blessings or help with things. If your ancestors are restless, visiting them can bring them peace so that they can move on.

Have you ever heard of a spirit house? I’ve heard there are two different types. One is erected for the spirits of the land. If you keep them happy, they will protect you and give you blessings. If you don’t, they may send negative energy your way. The other type is for the spirits of your dead ancestors. These are erected to give your dead ancestors who don’t successfully cross over an alternative place to stay so that they leave you alone!

In some cultures, when someone dies, his name is no longer spoken. This is so that the spirit is not disturbed or called back to the land of the living.

In other cultures, after the funeral the house is blessed or cleansed so that the deceased does not return.

Are you getting the idea that a lot of cultures felt like consciousness does not end in death? Is that merely because they were superstitious? Or is there something else going on? Do you also get the idea that many cultures wanted to keep the dead and living separate?

Believing in the continuation of consciousness can help people avoid suicide and reduce the fear of death. When you can accept death, it’s easier to let go and be on the other side and not hang around the living. Being a holistic practitioner and minister, I can tell you that what may at first seem like a mental health problem, can be a spiritual one. When I facilitate past life regressions, we always recover the death scene. This is the most frequent place for soul fracture. If death is sudden, violent, or there is unfinished business (“I will get you!” or “I can’t leave you” are two examples), the soul doesn’t cross over. It lingers. It may disturb the living. It may hang around the current life soul and interfere with progress, health, or peace of mind.

When death is seen as a part of life, a normal transition, and nothing to fear, this type of disturbance doesn’t have to happen. We never know when death will take us. We don’t all make it to an old age. We don’t all get to linger in illness preparing for death. Sometimes it comes suddenly. If you have some familiarity with it and have a living belief about it (as opposed to a passing idea that you don’t give any energy to), death can be as natural as the changing of seasons.

Whatever you do, don’t leave it to some strange hospital chaplain or nurse to help you with that transition. Plan for it. Think about it. Death does not have to be scary. It can be natural. If someone has passed on, let them go. They hear you if you call on them. They hear you if you feel you can’t go on without them. Holding them here isn’t good for you or them. As for you, if you are acquainted with the afterlife, you can transition easily and without fear.

If you need help with grief, soul fragmentation, or spirit attachment, contact me. I will be glad to help if I can.

Feedback is Your Greatest Teacher

correction

Before I was a therapist, I was a dancer and dance teacher. It was through that experience that I learned that feedback is your greatest teacher.

When my students and I embarked on our first competition experience, only one of them made it to the podium. Despite the lack of trophies, what we took away was far greater than that. We got the judges’ feedback! We poured over every word and used it to make performances better. We were mindful. We had a weekly recital where every student who wanted it got the same type of feedback from me. The next year we got more awards. The next there were even more. By the time I stopped teaching, we had become the school to beat. All because I learned and taught that feedback is your greatest teacher.

Fortunately, this doesn’t just apply to dance. It applies to life.

Feedback is a gift. Regardless of whether or not the sender intends for it to land that way, if you accept it as a gift, you have the means to grow beyond your present limitations. Not all people can give it. Not all people can receive it. If you are in either category, I challenge you to change this.

Some feel that saying anything remotely critical will hurt someone’s feelings so they avoid it. The saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is always true. There is usually a way to deliver any message in a softer way. When there isn’t, I find that honesty has a way of resonating as caring. When neither of those is true, you can simply let go of the outcome. You have no control over how a thing is received. Sometimes people aren’t ready to hear the truth, and that’s okay. If you deliver information in the spirit of caring, you offer a gift. The recipient can always refuse it.

Sometimes the challenge in receiving feedback comes from not knowing if the words are criticism or feedback. Criticism is never helpful. It tends to be subjective, hurtful, and has no means for the person to grow. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Criticism vs. Feedback

“That’s ugly.”

Criticism. It’s subjective. It’s doesn’t move anyone to a better place. It’s destructive and hurtful.

“You never listen.”

Feedback. Translation: I am not feeling heard. Can you show me in a different way that what I say is penetrating and means something to you?

“Blue is not a good color on you.”

This one is iffy. It depends on tone and the circumstances around why it is said. If the person is helping you to pick out an outfit and is someone whose fashion sense you respect, it’s probably feedback. It’s still subjective, though, and may not be the best advice.

“Slow down!”

Feedback. Translation: I am not comfortable at this pace. I am not comfortable with you moving at this pace.

“You’re too intense.”

This one is also iffy. If it is said in a way to deflect from dealing with an issue, it’s criticism. However, you can still use it as feedback. The translation could be that what is happening is overwhelming so try a different tactic.

“You’re so lazy. Why don’t you do something?”

Criticism for sure, but you can turn it into feedback by checking to see if there is any truth there. Are you idle? Do you waste time? Or are you just more relaxed and invest in meditative or restorative practices? Perhaps there is room for self improvement. Or maybe it’s another opportunity for appreciation for the things you do well and for staying true to your values.

What do you do if someone gives you feedback that you don’t want or that hurts? Say thank you. When you say thank you, you turn something negative into something positive. It opens your mind to the potential gift there. It acknowledges that whether someone wants to help or hurt, they care enough about the relationship to invest in it by giving you attention and information. If it’s truly criticism, responding with “thank you” can soften the person who gave it to you so that they may think about what they are saying and how they are saying it. Perhaps it will move them to either keep their comments to themselves next time or deliver it with a bit more softness.

If you don’t have enough information to make the criticism or feedback useful, ask for specifics. If someone says your work was “bad” ask how or what would they suggest to improve it? If someone says that your performance is sloppy, ask what he would like to see instead. If someone remarks that your cooking was just “okay” ask what they’d prefer. In the case of something subjective like cooking, there is no right way to cook something. However, knowing what someone likes is the best way to give them what they want.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to cry, pout, or attack. Sometimes getting feedback is hurtful – especially when it is true. Sleep on it. Let the information digest. You may find it easier to accept if you give yourself a little distance.

When you begin to welcome feedback for the growth opportunities that they present, it can make even the toughest criticism easier to take. If you listen to it and use it, it can propel your growth tremendously.

And remember, if someone is pushing you to do or be better, it’s because he cares. A person who believes in your potential will invest in you. He will challenge you to do better. When you hit a target, he may urge or push you to go even further because of the strength and success that you have already shown. It’s a compliment. People don’t invest in people they don’t care about. When you show courage and progress, you may be asked to do even more because you can.

If you never get helpful suggestions, it may show a lack of confidence in your ability or your strength to hear it. So ask for it. Then be grateful when it comes. If you whine and pout when you get great feedback, it may stop coming to you. Ultimately, this makes your life harder and keeps you ignorant.

If you want to grow, adopt the belief that feedback is your greatest teacher. Welcome it. Use it. Then watch how your life blossoms.

Can You Have Lucid Nightmares?

nightmare

Lucid dreams are those where you know you are dreaming. That’s it. Lucid dreams tend to have this fantastic association where they are extremely vivid, the laws of physics do not apply, and sensory input is very different. For example, you may taste colors, feel sounds, and know things outside of the regular ways of knowing (seeing, feelings, tasting, touching, and hearing). This may or may not be true. How a dream presents does not determine whether or not it is lucid. Lucidity also doesn’t make a dream more meaningful than other dreams. They are just dreams where you know you are dreaming.

A nightmare is an unpleasant dream that leaves you feeling undesirable emotions like sorrow, terror, or anxiety. It can have an identifiable antagonist or simply be a feeling. It can recur or happen only once. In order for nightmares to be nightmares, they just have to be dreams that leave you feeling not great in some way.

So, can you have lucid nightmares? Not likely. Why? Because if you know you are dreaming, you can also change your response to the action and emotion in the dream. Once you have choices, you can choose to do something about the thing that is disturbing you. As long as you make that choice, there is no longer a reason to feel terrified, anxious, or uneasy. You probably will feel empowered.

For example, I am a lucid dreamer. I had a dream that I had been tiger hunting and had a tiger in the back seat of my car. The tiger was calm so when my friend asked me if she could see him, I said, “Sure.” She got into the car and the tiger began to maul her. This was pretty bloody and awful and could have been a nightmare, but being lucid I chose to handle it by sternly telling it to stop and it did. Voila! The blood cleaned up, she was fine and there was no nightmare.

This is actually great life practice. (In fact all dreams are great for this purpose). When confronted with something unpleasant, we always have many options. When we understand that we have some control and choose to act in ways that empower us, we become more resourceful (in dreams and reality). When we are resourceful, the fear, anxiety, and sorrow dissipate.

The takeaway? You have power right now. When life appears as if it’s a nightmare, make a different choice. When confronted with nightmares, we often run, fall, scream, freeze in place – maybe like in life. You can do something different. So do something different. You can’t control what people and things around you do, but you can control what you do. This often neutralizes threat and increases skill.

 

How to Reduce Emotional Crises

emotional crisis

A crisis is an event that overwhelms your ability to cope. So, the best way to reduce emotional crises is to increase your baseline level of functioning and increase the number and mastery of your skills.

How do you know you are having an emotional crisis? Here are some signs:

  • physical symptoms like headache, crying, pain, fatigue, stomach upset, loss of appetite
  • emotional symptoms like apathy, anxiety, mood swings, irritability
  • behavioral signs like inability to concentrate, loss of motivation, impatience, social isolation, risk taking behaviors, attention seeking, self harm behaviors
  • cognitive signs like paranoia, self-doubt, self blame, indecisiveness, unfocused thinking

How to Increase Your Baseline Level of Functioning

Good daily self-care will help to keep your mind and body balanced. This can greatly reduce emotional crises by keeping you from becoming overwhelmed in the first place. When your body is functioning well, it has the energy to respond to events without going into overwhelm. This is always going to be your first and best line of defense.

How do you manage this? Meditate daily. This doesn’t have to mean sitting cross legged and emptying your mind of all thoughts. It could be breathing, doing a guided imagery meditation, practicing yoga, tai chi or qigong.

Exercise mildly daily. The body needs to move. Sitting is deadly. Movement promotes healthy functioning. Too much and too little creates problems.

Eat a healthy diet. So many people tell me they eat healthy meals, but when they tell me what they are eating, it’s not really healthy at all. Packaged foods, extreme diets, artificial colors, artificial flavors, sugar (natural and artificial), and chemical preservatives are not healthy foods. Healthy foods are on the outside aisles of the grocery store. They are meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. Organic and naturally grown (meaning free ranging, grass fed (for animals that eat grass), no hormones, no pesticides, etc) are always going to be healthier options. If your food is lasting more than a few days in the refrigerator or cabinet, it’s not fresh.

Sleep eight hours a night. A lot of people say they “get by just fine” with less. That’s a coping strategy. Every body is different, but the human animal is not designed to maintain health with fewer than seven hours of restful sleep per night. The brain requires that for functioning. The detoxification organs need it to keep the body healthy. Don’t kid yourself. If you have learned to adapt to less sleep, it doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need as much.

Spirituality is another must. Humans are mind, body, and spirit. We need to feel connected to each other and the rest of creation. When we aren’t, we are lonely and depressed. I am not saying you have to be religious or that you have to practice a specific religion. I am saying that having a sense of connection to something other than yourself will reduce emotional overwhelm.

What Skills Do You Need?

What skills do you need to develop and mastery? There are tons. You will need strategies for what to do when you are in the midst of crisis. These are things that you do to calm down, get centered, and keep you from creating any damage for yourself or others.

You also need skills for dealing with the emotional roller coaster that can come before and after the full blown crisis. These help you to stay centered and feel your feelings without pushing them away, blowing them up, or dismissing them. Pushing them away or minimizing them can make things worse in the long run.

Everyone can also use skills in dealing with other people – especially people who are not exactly easy to get along with. Many of our emotional crises arise out of relational issues, so negotiating relationships well will greatly reduce the number of crises we find ourselves in.

If you find yourself dealing with crises often, it’s not because your life is horrible, you’re a bad person, or people hate you. It’s probably because your self care routine needs adjustment or you need to grow your skill repertoire or mastery. There is nothing wrong or shameful about this. Hopefully we all are growing every day of our lives. It’s how we make life meaningful. However, when you are not spending your time dealing with crises, you can be growing in your career, relationships, creativity, spirituality, financially, or in something else. So, why not invest in improving your baseline level of functioning so that crises are minimal?

If you need help with this, contact me. I’d be glad to assist.