Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hugs are Healing Part 2

OK, I admit I haven't posted to this blog in a while.

I now put out a free monthly newsletter also called Drunk with Wonder. Click on the title to get to my homepage, where you can sign up.

That said, I received a question about my first Hugs are Healing blog post who identified themselves as "emmajean." This person left no way for me to contact them directly, so I'm trying this avenue. Emmajean, if you see this, please let me know.

One of the best articles I've seen on the efficacy of using hugs (and any SAFE touch) for healing can be found here.

This is but one example of many that prove beyond any reasonable doubt that loving, SAFE human touch, very much including hugs, has demonstrable, profoundly positive effects on human health.

For more on this important topic, check out Yvonne & Rich Dutra St. John's new book, Be the Hero You've Been Waiting For, especially chapter 20, "Hugs and Safe Touch." Rich & Yvonne are the founders of Challenge Day and the Be the Change movement. They're amazing!

Blessings and hugs,


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Words we Choose

It still amazes me to realize how powerful words are. The words we choose to describe our moment-to-moment experience (sometimes called our inner dialog, or running commentary), are usually internal and very private. Speaking gives even more power to the words we choose and the language we use. For example, I often use the word “overwhelm” to describe how I'm feeling, as in “OMG! I'm feeling so overwhelmed! Usually what I mean is that I'm experiencing a series of physical sensations, including tightness in my body and shallow, rapid breathing, along with swirling thoughts a strong sense that all these feelings and bodily sensations means that something is very wrong.

Like virtually everyone I know, I'm addicted to adrenaline. I definitely love getting my “fix” in the ways I'm most familiar and comfortable with. That is, unless I'm deliberately getting an adrenaline rush by choosing to step out of my comfort zone. Sometimes, especially lately, I feel as though I'm learning to be more comfortable when I'm uncomfortable, though often I'm so uncomfortable when I step out of my comfort zone that I just want to run away.

When I take this awareness into looking at my relationship with the word “overwhelmed,” I see how loaded that word is for me. I have a story that it's not okay to feel overwhelmed. Digging deeper, I realize that I “hate” (have an intense dislike for) the sensations I associate with the word “overwhelmed.” I feel really double Dash extra uncomfortable. The point here is that when I choose another word to describe the very same constellation of sensations, let's say “busy,” I notice that I'm more calm than when I use overwhelm.

Ultimately, my goal is to release my need for internal dialog to label and therefore “cubbyhole” my experience. My intention is to be fully present with each breath, consciously choosing which, if any, stories I want to be invoking to describe my moment-to-moment experience. As I write about extensively in Drunk with Wonder, there is the “isness” of the moment, free of story or content; and then there is our experience or perception of the “isness,” which is based on the stories we choose to tell ourselves that gives the “isness” a place in the narrative we call life.

To bring this discussion back to the word “overwhelm,” what I'm discerning is that I have used that word to inject a shot of adrenaline straight into my heart. This adrenaline rush, while very intense and definitely a “high,” is also very hard on my body, mind, heart and spirit. When I choose the word “busy” to describe my experience of having made a series of choices with the common goal of accomplishing some tasks, I don't get that shot of adrenaline. I feel much more calm and relaxed, and better yet I think more clearly, which actually allows me to accomplish more than I can when I'm putting myself into an emotional frenzy by “feeling” overwhelmed.

My discovery is that when I'm feeling overwhelmed it's because I choose to use that particular word to describe the sensations I described earlier, not because of how many tasks are on my “to-do” list. I create my experience on a moment-by-moment basis with the words I choose to use to describe the “isness.” In this moment, the words I am choosing to describe my experience of writing this essay are “empowered communicator.”

I still have as many things on my “to-do” list as I did before, it's just that in this moment my list no longer feels overwhelming. It's just a list. I'll get all my tasks accomplished sooner or later without ever needing to feel overwhelmed. How about you? Have you noticed any areas of your life that aren't working as well as they might? Consider taking a close look at your word choices. Perhaps you can choose words, such as busy instead of overwhelmed, which will support you in living the life of your dreams.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pain is Inevitable - Suffering is Optional

Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far, with temperatures in the 80s by midafternoon. I finally tore myself away from the computer and headed out for a walk. It's still extremely lush and green here, with wildflowers including lupines, buttercups and Douglas Iris blooming in gratuitous profusion. A steady breeze kept the temperature from becoming unbearable, with the added benefit of wafting all the smells of a flower scented heaven into my nostrils.

About half way through my walk, the breeze also blew some pollen into my eyes. As a contact lens wearer, pollen and other irritants are a regular part of the "isness" that I deal with on a daily basis, especially in spring. Knowing this, I had even brought a bottle of special drops for my eyes in case my contacts started to bother me. I knelt down at the edge of a grassy field next to some young cedars, but carefully placed my hat upside down and proceeded to pop my contact out. To my surprise, the breeze grabbed my contact and tossed it into the grass. Now, this grass was between six and 12 inches deep, and my immediate reaction was something quite a bit stronger than "darn."

There I was on my knees, one contact lost in the grass, trying to locate a tiny, nearly transparent circle of blue plastic less than a half inch in diameter. The bright sun shone like gold on the grass and the breeze waved the green shoots around in a friendly frenzy. With my contact gone, I had to get down within 6 inches of the ground in order to see anything clearly. I was right on the edge of getting really upset with myself, as this is a new contact and would cost $50 to replace. If you really knew me, you'd know that I spent most of my life with a severe inner critic, and I could feel it wanting to pounce on my apparent screw up. I chose not to engage, and quietly celebrated remembering that I had a choice in the matter.

Invoking my spiritual practice of staying fully present in the moment, I took a couple of deep breaths and begin to notice the astonishing beauty spread out before me. Miniscule flowers the size of an ant's head grew underneath the tall grasses, miniature pink blooms serving as exclamation points for this lilliputian world. For a moment, I forgot all about my contact and just marveled at the intoxicating beauty of this tiny little patch of ground.

As my breathing slowed, and I became increasingly aware of every blade of grass, every grain of sand and earth, each ant and insect busily crawling around in their world, and realized what a gift losing my contact had been. I had been so focused on my walk, on the trees and the astonishing view, that I had been paying no attention at all to the amazing spectacle at my feet.

After a couple of minutes simply enjoying this extraordinary little world, I noticed the glint of my contact and picked it up. I congratulated myself on my patience in my ability to see the gift of losing my contact. I gently set the contact down on the brim of my hat, which was still turned upside down in the grass. I took out my water bottle and my drops so that I could clean my contact and place it back in my eye. However, the wind had other plans. As I reached to pick up the contact, the breeze effortlessly picked up that petite piece of plastic and flipped it back in the grass. I couldn't believe it.

Obviously, I had not become sufficiently present the first time I went through this process, so I had the opportunity to do so again … quiet my breathing, focus on the beauty in front of me, choose not to make myself wrong, and simply be available for the contact to show itself again. After a few more minutes of kneeling in the beauty of the day, bowing to the sacred all around me, sure enough, the contact "showed up." This time I didn't let go of it, and within moments it was safely back in my eye. As I stood up and prepared to head home, I spent another moment in quiet reflection, honoring my experience and grateful that I had chosen to accept the moment as it was without creating any suffering for myself.

If that had been the end of the story, I would have felt it worth the telling, but opportunities for me to keep choosing not to suffer continued showing up. My contact continued bothering me all the way back, about a 45 minute walk. I did not attempt to take it out and clean it again; rather, I simply stayed present, noticing that in each moment. I could choose to turn the pain into suffering … or not. My eye kept tearing, and it was difficult to keep it open through the pain. And yet, the beauty of the day called insistently through the hum of innumerable bees collecting nectar from the veritable explosion of blooms. In particular, the hillsides along the road were carpeted with flowers, particularly vetch, a low green vine bursting with millions of small purple blossoms. Whole sections of hillside were blanketed in this glorious profusion, this spring riot of life. I was amazed. Sometimes my eye would clear up for a few minutes, and I was grateful. Then the pain would return, and I felt grateful that I was not creating suffering for myself in addition to feeling the pain.

I was so touched by this experience that I felt compelled to write it down as a teaching opportunity. Pain and suffering are not one word. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. It is a core component of my teaching, as it is of many who use the path of inquiry to discern our true nature. Remember, in each moment we have a choice. We can welcome the pain that inevitably comes with the gift of life as an opportunity to become fully present in the moment. Suffering is simply not necessary. I am grateful to life for every chance I have to explore this perspective, and to share what I learn with you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is God Real?

In a recent Newsweek (4-9-07), avowed atheist and best-selling author Sam Harris squares off with Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA and author of the world-wide best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life, in a piece titled "Religion: Is God Real?"
I found it to be interesting reading, as far as it went, but wholly missing a crucial point. While I share Harris's certainty that there is no "Biblical God," I do not share his conclusion that there is no God whatsoever. I believe that God/Goddess is Consciousness itself, and that this Conscious Awareness permeates the entire universe and beyond with non-dual, unconditional love. The most spectacular, unending gift of this Awareness is life itself. To me, this core belief is what Spirituality is all about.

Harris and Warren argue from an either/or perspective; "Either a Christian God exists, or "he" does not." My passionate rejoinder is that God is not so small, and certainly cannot be contained or understood in such an anthropocentric story.

Warren goes on to talk about the evidence of God in the "tens of thousands of times" he has personally witnessed miracles. He mentions a specific time when his prayer was answered, and another instance when it was not. Personally, I see miracles every day, so I'm cool with the concept. However, I think Warren is using the first of the two meanings of "miracle", the gist of which is, "An extraordinary occurrence that surpasses all human powers and is ascribed to God." I prefer the second meaning, "A superb or surprising example of something; wonder; marvel."

Using the second definition of miracle, I see life itself as a surpassing wonder. When I am present and paying attention, I feel God's unconditional love with every breath I take, every note of music, every ray of sunshine, and every hug I give or get. Miracles are everywhere, if we have eyes to see, hearts to feel and the presence to be grateful for each moment of life.

To continue this discussion between Harris and Warren, the question arose, "Why would God give a little girl cancer, or if she had it why would earnest prayer not take it away?" The answer, something to the effect that God works in mysterious ways, seems utterly specious to me. Here's how I unpack this whole notion of how an infinitely loving God could "allow" bad things to happen to anyone.

Life is the ultimate gift of God's unceasing, infinite, unconditional love. Life has limits. We have bodies that are born, grow, decay and die. One could make a case that God condemned us all to death by giving us life in the first place. Some of us wind up sticking around longer than others. Making that God's fault or responsibility is like making winter the fault of summer. To claim that there is something unfair about a life "cut short" is to miss the miracle of every breath, every smile, every tender gaze that was available while alive. Life is not "fair," it just is. We can see life as a miracle or a tragedy, and we will find abundant evidence for either position depending on our perspective.

Of course, losing a child under any circumstances is heart-breaking. It's just that losing a little girl to cancer is no more sad than losing a child to malaria, starvation, war or an accident. When people we love leave the world, our feelings of grief and sadness can, if we let them, turn us into constricted, shut-down shadows of who we really are. The very same losses can break our hearts open, allowing us to experience the miracle of life from an infinitely more precious, tender and vulnerable place.

We, all of us, are God-in-form. Every single moment of our lives we have choices to make. We can choose to see ourselves as victims of a capricious, unknowable, judgemental and vengeful god, or literally as God experiencing the fleeting yet miraculous gifts of life. I choose to hold every breath as an act of worship, every hug as holy, every kind and generous word as sacred. In the end, it all comes down to a simple yet profound choice; love, or fear?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hugs are Healing

It is clear that safe, caring physical touch is as important to our health as food, air or water. It's been amply demonstrated that newborns deprival of nurturing touch can actually die, even if their other physical needs are met. Sadly, in our culture physical touch, particularly in the form of hugs, is often seen as unsafe. In particular, men are discouraged from hugging each other lest it be seen as somehow "gay." (As though there's anything wrong with being gay. There isn't). Men and boys can be ridiculed, hurt or even killed just for being affectionate, loving people. To me, this is heartbreaking.

Hugs are a healthy, genuine way to express affection, friendship and love. It should never be wrong to hug a friend of either sex, or your child, brother, sister, father or mother. I have been in dozens of Challenge Days and other workshops where healthy, safe hugging is taught. It's amazing to me that we have to teach how to hug in the first place. But since there's so much unsafe touch in our culture, someone has to model safe touch, so we do.

Challenge Day teaches that we need three hugs a day just to get by, and that with six hugs a day we are doing pretty well, and that 12 hugs a day help us to really thrive. Numerous studies bear this out. Our bodies respond immediately to loving touch. Our heart rate goes down, along with our blood pressure. Our breathing slows, our muscles relax, and our immune systems pick up. Anyone who has spent much time hugging knows exactly what I'm talking about.

You'd think I would have hugging down, and in some ways, I do. I'm considered a world-class hugger by many who know me. I love hugs, both giving and getting. A little over a month ago, after our most recent Challenge Days here in Ukiah, my beloved wife and life partner JoAnn suggested that we begin to actually count how many hugs we gave each other every day, and make a concerted effort to get at least 12.

What soon became apparent was that, even though JoAnn retired from teaching in June, and we live, work and play together 24/7, 12 hugs a day were way more than we had been getting. We realized that, quite unintentionally, we had often been getting by on no more than three hugs a day (if that). JoAnn and I have been together for over 11 years. We adore each other. We're happier together then we've ever been in our lives. And still, these last weeks of going for 12 hugs a day have been amazing! We deserve more! And so do you.

Try this: become fully present with someone you trust (perhaps by taking a deep centering breath or three), ask for a hug, then melt into it with another deep breath. Go ahead and try it right now. Find someone to hug. If you're alone, take a deep breath, relax, and imagine getting a wonderful hug from someone whose hugs you truly adore, and make a mental note to get a hug as soon as you can. I guarantee that one of the surest ways to become drunk with wonder is to get 12 hugs a day. I dare you!