Experiencing Life Through the Perspective of Another

 

On my second trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica with a humanitarian, dental, non-profit organization called Great Shape/ 1000 Smiles, I again found myself working in a remote, jungle community called Walkerswood at the local school… in fact, the only school. It was a series of small, run-down, dirt-floored buildings joined together by sidewalks, metal bars in the glassless windows & surrounded by a rough-shod playground.

The kids, who ranged in age from 5 through 17, were more than curious as we hauled in box after box of dental equipment & chairs. They couldn’t wrap their minds around our odd ways either, whether it was petting or talking to the myriad of poor, starving dogs everywhere or wincing at the sight of bug-covered food that they would eat without a second thought… bugs & all.

Although the principal & staff cared greatly for these children, they were very strict about manners, obedience & the effort they put into their studies. I was even asked to speak at their monthly PTA meeting! The parents initially had a difficult time believing we would actually volunteer to take  time away from our own jobs & families & pay our own airfare to come there & not want something in return. Their own survival had always depended on having to hold so tightly onto anything they could get.

It was also an expectation throughout the community that if someone’s child was caught misbehaving, whichever neighbor happened to see them could take it upon themselves to mete out punishment which often included hitting them… the old “spare the rod… spoil the child” mentality.

The second day there, I met a teenage girl, Dana… 15 years old… who lived nearby. Her developmentally disabled brother attended the school & although she was no longer a student there herself, she could often be found helping with him or just hanging around. Her mother was a local healer… a very spiritual, church-going woman who was well-liked & respected in the community.

As we struck up a conversation, I asked why she wasn’t in school. She had attended previously & had actually been a very good student. At some point though, she’d come down with an auto-immune disorder which slowly robbed her of her ability to function. Often exhausted, she would ask the teacher to be excused. Her mother, being very concerned, had taken her to various local healers with no luck. She was finally able to get a clear diagnosis from a medical center some distance away.

Unfortunately because of the culture there & a lack of understanding, that explanation wasn’t well-received by the school staff. Assuming she was just being lazy, her teachers became so hard on her she eventually dropped out of altogether. Fortunately by the time we met, her symptoms had begun to go into remission & her strength & energy were slowly returning.

Since we were short-handed, this seemed like an ideal opportunity to have her work with us as a team member & build her self-esteem at the same time… a win-win! She seemed to have a natural aptitude for dentistry & before long she was performing a number of tasks quite well. The change in her demeanor was palatable & it did my heart good to see her confidence in herself grow.

Each year as our trip came to an end & we prepared to go back home, there was always a dinner back at the hotel to say “thank-you” to everyone who had participated & give them a chance to say their good-byes to so many they had developed strong bonds with. Everyone shared how much it had meant to them to really be able to help but they also felt they’d received so much more in return.

Our team invited Dana to come spend the night at the hotel in my room so she could attend the dinner & with her mother’s permission, she excitedly agreed. I knew this would be a great experience for her but I had no idea what an adventure it would be as well… for both of us…

She arrived carrying a change of clothes and an old, ragged towel in a paper bag. I explained it wasn’t necessary for her to bring her own towel as the hotel supplied them for their guests. I then told her to go ahead & feel free to take the first shower. She headed into the bathroom as my roommate & I took that time to kick back after a long, hot day.

About 20 minutes later, out she walked… tears in her eyes… red blotches all over her skin. Surprised & concerned, I asked her what was wrong. “I tried to stay under the spout” she said “but the water was just SO hot, I couldn’t stand it anymore!” To my dismay, I realized she had never been in a shower with hot & cold running water before.  I thought about how naïve I’d been not to realize that. Most Jamaicans shower in rainwater they trap in vats on their roofs. It’s a tropical climate so water heaters aren’t used, even though there are days I’m sure it’s chilly. They simply can’t afford the electricity or plumbing.

I apologetically explained the situation to her & helped her get ready for dinner, all the while trying to ease her extreme nervousness.  By the time we got to dinner & seated ourselves, the poor thing looked like she was going to pass out!

As our dinners were served, I noticed one of the Jamaican waiters standing by the wall near our table, quietly & quickly came over to her, placed her napkin in her lap for her & showed her the silverware. Once again, I realized she had never been to a restaurant… never experienced the nuances of having her glass filled with water or ordering from a menu. Again, I felt like I’d failed her in not being aware enough of the circumstances she came from. No wonder she was so anxious!

There are many people who live in the U.S. who also go without these things as well but even more Jamaicans do. So many of us in this country are so blessed to have enough to eat, a place to sleep, a chance for an education, clothing, charitable organizations who are available to make up the difference & opportunities for some type of dental & medical care should an emergency arise at least. We can’t know what we haven’t yet learned & sometimes it’s easy to forget to appreciate what we haven’t had to go without.

Gratitude is our gift to ourselves & to the collective because if we can’t see our own reasons to be grateful, we’re not near as likely to be there to support & empower others.

                                                 GET CURIOUS… REMEMBER…

 

 

 

 

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Fear & Limitation

“Hang on tight… You never know what might happen if you let go” …. Brian Andreas
What are you afraid of…? I mean what REALLY scares you? You can’t count anything you might worry could happen to a loved one… this one is just about you and only you. Have you ever really thought about it or ask someone you’re close to about theirs? You may be surprised at the answer.
Each year I try to pick something that “scares the hell out of me” and I do it anyway. I’m never short on subject matter! Although this may conjure up visions of possibly jumping out of an airplane 2500 ft. above the ground, many of my own, personal roadblocks have tended to revolve much more around that “P”-word most of us are likely more intimately acquainted with than we’d like…. “procrastination”. Having experienced both of the above types of fear numerous times, I found the fear of not meeting expectations… mine or someone else’s… MUCH more frightening than sky-diving!
I eventually came to understand just how much of a limitation FEAR plays in our lives… right down to the small, seemingly insignificant ones. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what its true purpose really is. Despite its intended design which is to keep us alive, it’s been heavily over-used….
On a trip I took to Yelapa, Mx. A few years ago for a yearly sacred, women’s retreat I have been participating in, I was particularly aware and often amazed at the amount of fear I witnessed in many of the participants. This is a very small, fishing village that can’t be accessed except by boat. Although quite comfortable, our rooms or palapas were made of thatched palm leaves for the roofs and had no walls or glass windows… quite rustic & open to the jungle life except for mosquito netting around our beds..
For someone like myself, who feels most at home in nature and the trees, going to sleep each night to the sounds of the secadas and other vibrating insects, in unison with the rhythm of the waves lapping against the rocks on the beaches only yards away, always sing to my strong shamanic connection to the earth. Waking up each morning to the sounds of the jungle and the songbirds coming to life again to start a new day absolutely fills me with gratitude for the gift that it all truly is. That’s MY perspective anyway…
The first day begins with a quick overview of some interesting local facts about the indigenous culture there and a few cautionary suggestions for avoiding bites or stings from some of the critters that call the area home, one being scorpions. The point is always made though, that the actual incidences of this happening are pretty small as long as they know to be aware.
Out of the 10 women who came on this particular trip to experience the adventure and connection outside their normal comfort zone, many were very nervous about the scorpions and other wildlife, some were afraid of what might be in the water or climbing out of a small boat in choppy water, etc. but the one who stood out the most was a woman who was petrified of heights & trees!
Of all the palapas, she was assigned the one with the best view at the edge of a beautiful canyon and right in front of an ancient, enormous banyan tree. I could feel the energy coming from it as I stood there gazing in admiration and feeling a little envious of her good-fortune at being able to sleep there.
The next morning, as we all gathered for breakfast, I was surprised to see this same woman walk through the kitchen door, her puffy, red eyes belying the fact she hadn’t slept a wink all night. We agreed that a healing session might be in order and later that day as we began working in energy, she explained to me that she had always had a deep-seated fear of trees along with a lengthy list of other phobias. We eventually uncovered the reason for her fear of trees, which she explained was based on the worry they could fall over on her.
She spoke about being raised in a military family, the oldest of four kids. Their lifestyle required frequent moves which meant she had to continually uproot her life, leave her friends behind and begin again…over and over.
Because emotional expression was neither modeled nor encouraged by her stoic parents, her normal feelings over all this went unaddressed. As the oldest, she just naturally assumed the responsibility of watching out for her younger siblings, which left her with little time for her own self-nurturing.
As I worked on her, I suddenly felt and saw the connection. “It’s not the tree you’re afraid of.” I told her. “It’s the fear that the “roots” will give way and it will topple.” That was where her fear of it falling came from! “Roots” are what she never could seem to hold onto throughout her childhood & even at times in her adult life as well. Never being able to stay in one spot long enough to feel safe and connected had taken its toll. We worked together to release that belief and incorrect fear which in turn gave her new insight.
The next morning she walked with a smile on her face and a much different and more empowered look and attitude. She said she was amazed at how peacefully she had slept throughout the night… right in front of that beautiful old tree elder.
But the news she was most excited to share was that as she was awakening, she opened her eyes and looked straight at the tree. There in front of it, she clearly saw a very old, aboriginal man. He said nothing but looked at her and smiled.
With a catch of emotion in her voice, she said she knew he was there to tell her she had done good work. I explained that he was one of her guides and I pointed out to her, if she had not been able to step out of the fear, she wouldn’t have had the clarity to be able to see him and the gift he gave her of support & wisdom.
As the week progressed we worked to recognize where each fear became locked in and with a concerted effort of support from everyone there, she was able to empower herself to overcome them…one at a time. The shift in her entire being was palatable by the end of the trip and it was a true inspiration and lesson to everyone there.
She had to come to truly understand at a deeper level that because she saw something as scary didn’t mean everyone else did. It wasn’t the “thing” that changed…only her perception of it. Finally gaining the courage & support to actually face them set her free or put her well on her way. Our imagination is often much worse than the reality of a given situation.
GET CURIOUS… BE COURAGEOUS… REMEMBER

The Negative Power of Fear & Anxiety

We live in a society fraught with anxiety. There’s a collective pot of boiling worry over our economy, our health, our safety & our security. It’s a perspective of “NON-abundance” in a high-tech world which when out-of-balance, has pushed us even further away from the wisdom of our natural roots… Mother Earth.
Fear is meant to be our internal red flag which allows us to protect ourselves from that which would cause us serious injury or death. With this fear comes the “fight or flight” response that triggers our adrenal glands to start fast & furiously pumping adrenaline into our bodies to give us more speed & even short-lived, super-human strength to escape danger.
Fear & anxiety go hand-in-hand & they’re collectively used as tools for manipulation by our governments, many corporations & other institutions of power. Misplaced, they simply equal “limitation” & every fear we have is just one more. It stops us from living the fullest, most joyful life we deserve. We each have the choice to live a life of limitations or possibilities & we are our only jail-keepers.
When we live in a state of constant angst & fearfulness, it affects ALL of our etherics… mental, emotional and spiritual, not to mention our physical health in a myriad of destructive ways. We can end up with adrenal burn-out, sleep disorders, heart problems, ulcers, PTSD & much more. IN FACT ANXIETY IS THE PRECURSOR TO MANY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES WHICH NEVER WOULD HAVE COME FORWARD WITHOUT THIS CATALYST. It affects our brain chemistry & neuropathways. Our thoughts really DO affect physical matter, whether it’s on an individual basis or a collective one. In physics, it’s called a maneuver wave… that group mind-set that spreads throughout all the participants just like an erupting riot…
Most people are uncomfortable with change… even positive change. It feels much safer to remain in the status quo where we know exactly what to expect, even if we’re miserable being there. It gives us an unrealistic sense of control. Unfortunately, it can also leave us feeling stuck, powerless & unable to grow & move forward in our lives.
Parents unintentionally pass these fears on to their children & as these things go…it just continues to roll downhill. Thus addressing & overcoming our own fears as adults not only stops this cycle but also offers up a wonderful example for our children to follow in their own lives and self-growth. We can’t change what we don’t recognize. It takes courage & trust to change but the pay-off can be enormous.
Some fears may not even be recognizable as such because we’ve become so accustomed to thinking a certain way. Fear of “different” can mean prejudice toward other cultures, religions, failing at something (so we don’t even try…a common one!), embracing new ideas & stepping out of the box, expressing our emotions, trying something new such as a type of food, an activity, wearing a different color or style… the list goes on & on. We may fear standing out… being judged or criticized… humiliated… for simply being who we REALLY are…
In my work, I’ve found the majority of fears aren’t rational but merely conditioned-responses. Our brains can be very interesting computers that perceive situations a particular way even when that perception may be skewed. We can carry these memories forward from our past lives in our cells and DNA from lifetime to lifetime but there’s always a reason for them somewhere.
It’s not only possible to remove these individual stumbling blocks, it’s also necessary in order to free yourself up. Even more important than finding their exact source, it’s done a spoonful at a time by recognizing them for what they are. Each hurdle we face & get over can’t help but empower us with renewed strength & hope regardless of how small it seems. Ask yourself logically, “What’s the worst thing that’s likely to happen if I take this chance?”
WE ARE NOT OUR FEARS! Fear is usually nothing more than a “lesson” for each of us in our own way… a mirror for something we need to address in ourselves, overcome & check off our “to get well” list. Learn to see them as the gifts they truly can actually be & listen to the wisdom of your gut instead of being blind-sided & sucked in by the spin of the media & politicians so prevalent out there. Claim on your right to your own Power. It belongs to YOU! THAT is what true freedom really is… an inside job.
It ‘s correct that the biggest fear we have to face is fear itself and you just might be amazed at what you’re really made of when you have the courage to see your truth. Go ahead… find something that really scares the hell out of you and do it anyway.
GET CURIOUS…REMEMBER…

A Lack of Creative Vision Makes Prisoners of All of US…

A Lack of Vision Creates Prisoners of All of US…

In just this last year in this area at least 100 people were killed or wounded by someone reported to have mental health issues. Even more concerning are the statistics which show 1400 mentally ill individuals killed family members, 13,000 committed suicide and the numbers are only increasing. These cases more often than not, end up in our juvenile & prison systems… after they’ve passed through our schools & communities. One half to two thirds of these people were “formally” diagnosed with a specific mental illness which is a stretch anyway considering the poor accuracy rate of the current testing methods.

The mentally-ill inmates in our prison systems are dealt with in ways which are at best ineffective and at worst archaic and stunningly cruel. This also applies to many of the disciplinary actions in many facets of our communities where students, inmates, patients & other community members are acting out and at risk to themselves & others. Our police & prison officials need to be adequately trained to handle them & our laws need to be changed to reflect the reality of the situation beyond the antiquated “just lock-em-up” mentality of the Old West. We’re living in a technical age. Not only is it ineffective, the cost to the taxpayers for utilizing these solutions is much, much higher on levels well beyond the financial.

Traditionally, inmates with serious behavioral issues while incarcerated are automatically put into solitary confinement. This can result in an endless procession of people doing their time there and then being released into the main prison population only to repeat their behavior & be returned literally for years on end. They’re confined to a tiny, concrete cell & allowed no human contact… their meals slid through a small opening in the door like feeding time for the dangerous animals in the zoo & an allowance of only 1-2 hrs. a day to exercise or walk around with 2 armed guards. I’ve read accounts of inmates being subjected to this treatment for 23 YEARS or more at a stretch. As any intelligent person can imagine, the result is either a far more fractured personality or total insanity. These people are often released back out into our communities far more wounded than they went in with little or no hope of successfully acclimating to a productive, non-violent life. What we do to ALL life, we ultimately do to ourselves.

I’ve always believed that the old, ineffective ways which have historically been chosen to address many problems on a personal level & as a collective society have shown a distinct lack of creativity, vision & compassion as well as an acute overdose of ego. This same “lack of” holds true for war. The legacy of pain & dysfunction it creates branches out in ways we don’t even realize. Being cut off from their humanity will do that to a person… Fighting fear & violence with more fear & violence = perpetuation NOT solutions, whether it’s physical, verbal, emotional or spiritual. At some point don’t we need to ask ourselves “How’s this working for us?” & get serious about the answer?

 It’s not about tip-toeing naively through the flowers, sprinkling fairy dust & happy intentions all around… It’s about having the wisdom and insight to see a bigger, healthier picture beyond what ails us & then having the courage to step into our Power. We have to become responsible for ourselves, work to create change & claim on our right to not be manipulated by those we trust to have our collective, best interest at heart.

                                         GET CURIOUS…. REMEMBER

 

Mental Health Rides on Relationship… Eco-Psychology

 

OK… so think about it… Hopefully most of us eventually figure out that to have a healthy, symbiotic relationship with another person, it’s necessary for BOTH parties to make a concerted effort to “water & feed the garden” so to speak. We have to put the necessary time into tending it or it dries up. If it’s just beginning to show signs of deterioration, you can start watering it again & you might be fortunate enough to see it sprout back to life but you wait too long & it dies at its roots & then it’s too late. For both parties to survive in it… they BOTH have to pay attention.

That’s also a perfect metaphor for our relationship with the Earth & Natural World. The last time I checked, this is where we humans get everything we need to have access to in order to survive… clothing, food, air, water, shelter… the basics. I always wonder how we can be so arrogant to think we can just go along continuing to systematically mow down the forests which contribute to the air we breathe & provide homes for creatures which provide so much & share our world with us… to genetically engineering our foods to look “perfect” on the outside & yet not only provide less nutrients but also create new allergies (think gluten)… to raising  animals in such inhumane, horrific ways  for our desires and uses or killing off those which we don’t care to have around…  to dumping toxins into our waters until a “good, SAFE” rule for our seafood is just not to eat more than “the suggested” amount in a given time-period. Is this what it’s come to?? Mankind has literally almost bitten off the hand that feeds it… a very delicate & perfectly balanced one at that. The list seems almost endless regarding the disrespect our species has shown for this planet in so many ways.

With all the current chaos within our communities here & around the globe, anxiety is more prevalent than ever. It’s at the root of many mental health issues which might not have come forward at all without that push. We have teens & young adults depending on medications like Xanax to cope instead of healthier ways like exercise, nutritious eating & learning how to get centered.

When we go against the natural balance of anything, we hurt ourselves as well. It’s a Universal Law based on physics. The ancient societies throughout time knew & lived by this wisdom, not only in relation to Mother Earth but also with themselves and others. We’ve forgotten how to connect with each other beyond our latest & greatest “devices”… to go deeper… to be curious. It also creates a society which is too “drugged” on many levels to take its own Power back which makes us ripe for the picking for those who have other agendas.

Spending even 15 to 30 minutes daily outside… feet on the earth… is immensely helpful in keeping us grounded & tuned in to a different set of priorities that SHOW us how to RESIDE IN THE MOMENT… to BREATHE… to have ENOUGH… to BE enough. This isn’t the place where anxiety flourishes. It’s the core of true wisdom which was here long before any of the rest of it.

                                              GET CURIOUS… REMEMBER…

Mental Health… So what’s in a label?

Among the countless things I don’t know is one thing I’ve learned FOR SURE… life is anything but black and white… neat and tidy! It comes instead, in a spectrum of shades… often overlapping according to facts and perspective. The issue of mental health falls perfectly into this conundrum. We seem to have a need to define everything and give it a name. It makes us feel safer… more in control regardless of how far from the truth that really is.

The professional field of mental health has historically been broken in many ways. A diagnosis can only be as accurate and effective as the tools used to assess any given situation along with the insight and training of the psychologist and or psychiatrist making that assessment. Until recently due to a lack of funding and priorities, the human brain has not been studied beyond a certain point. The tendency has always been to view the issue from only part of our human spectrum which is only a slice of the entire pie. The reality is we’re all made up of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies… each just as essential as the next and all connected and symbiotic.

Good therapists are worth their weight in gold but sadly those who aren’t seem to far outweigh them. This has been not my personal experience repeatedly but also mirrors the opinions of many friends and peers of mine in this field who have identified this as a real problem as well. Nobody in a healing profession can be effective unless they’re willing to also do their own personal work. People are often drawn to professions like these because of their own tough experiences and a sincere desire to help others. What they don’t yet understand however is we can’t help anyone else unless we’re willing to help ourselves first. When we know better… we do better. Knowledge gained through books and class-time is very different from wisdom. This is what we gain from going through the process ourselves. It shifts our perspectives and the way we deal with everything and everyone around us. Otherwise, it becomes just another way to avoid our “stuff” by focusing on someone or something else. That’s not empowering for either party!

Unfortunately, the propensity for life-long damage to someone who is incorrectly diagnosed or mishandled by the so-called “professional” they’ve sought help from can be heart-breaking. It certainly has been for me as I’ve listened to countless personal stories from clients and friends who have suffered the repercussions of being incorrectly diagnosed and labeled. They’ve all held the belief that they WERE their diagnosis… somehow less than everyone else… flawed… not worth having a joyful life or a healthy relationship. In every single case, they could not have been more wrong. NOBODY should go into the field of mental health unless they’re empathic and compassionate enough to see and understand the perspectives of those they are supposed to serve. The damage I’ve witnessed from ignorance on the part of the professional who should know better has left me many times with my mouth hanging open in amazement.

Learning to truly identify who we are at our authentic best requires letting go of the antiquated beliefs that keep us stuck, powerless and unable to see the bigger picture and truth of it. Becoming aware of the labels which hurt and shame so many and keep them hostage is something everyone of us can and should do. It also means having the courage to speak up when we hear or see someone doing something counter to that. At our cores, THAT is who we ALL are.

GET CURIOUS…. REMEMBER…