Tag Archives: mindfulness

Dreaming Our Way Into the Future

beaded dream catcherby David Bedrick, J.D., Dipl. PW

At this time in our world, we may need the power to dream and the ability to understand one another’s dreams more than ever.  Our colleague, David Bedrick,  has been writing about dreams and other psychological and social issues for many years now.  In the blog below, originally published by Psychology Today, David gives us some insights into the mysterious, night-time phenomena, we call dreams and suggests some reasons why we should pay attention to their quirky and often wise messages and symbols.

#1: Dreaming is one of the most powerful natural healing events.

Dreams are naturally occurring; every night we live in a world where our deepest, but often suppressed and unconscious, experiences get to live in the form of symbols, feelings, and other worldly experiences. Then we wake up, and for most of us, these experiences get dismissed or simply forgotten as we attempt to live in what we believe is a more objective world of “real” people, places, and events. The underlying dreaming experiences of our lives become marginalized leaving us without a connection to our deepest feelings to move us, without our imagination to show us new roadways, and without a profound sense of what it means to be sentient, to be human. In short, dismissing our dreams dismisses our deepest selves.

#2: Dreams offer new resolutions to our greatest sufferings. 

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Our dreams are absolutely brilliant at doing just that – flipping our usual script and offering a radical new orientation designed just for us. They reveal the fear behind our rigidity; the beauty behind what we hold as ugly and the ugliness behind what we hold as beautiful; the power behind what we deem vulnerable and the vulnerability behind what we deem powerful; and the wisdom behind what we deem foolish and the foolishness behind what we deem wise. Further, they compensate for our biases showing us parts of ourselves that are in dramatic tension and conflict with who we try to be. Thus, when we try to be thoughtful of others, our dreams reveal how we need to be more self-interested; when we try to be spiritual, our dreams show how we marginalize our body and sensuality; when we try to be disciplined, our dreams show how we need to let go and let life flow; or when we try to promote peace, our dreams show how we need to live in a more “militant” fashion or grab hold of our power.

#3: Dreams reveal our most private needs nakedly, completely, and honestly. 

Dreams take off all of our clothes, showing the full range of our humanity in ways that our waking-selves would never do. I began commenting on people’s dreams in a public Facebook space about a year ago where 100’s of dreams have been shared with me – dreams of being fearful, powerful, brilliant, magical, ill, abused, brutal, and so many things that we wouldn’t show to others (and sometimes ourselves). It’s simply incredible to have a community of people, most who have never met personally, candidly revealing their deepest inner selves whether it is their demons or angels. Maya Angelou wrote in her inaugural poem for William Jefferson Clinton, “Give birth again
to the dream. Women, children, men. Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most
private need. Sculpt it into
the image of your most public self.” Our nighttime dreams help us heed Dr. Angelou’s call – to make our private selves public.

#4: Dreamers are needed to resolve the world’s most protracted problems.

How shall we respond to the enormous difficulties we face as individuals and as a global society – war, terrorism, addictions, and the harm done to women and to people of color?  We set up geographical borders and try to push them on the people of the Middle East to resolve their conflict, but it is not sustainable. We send people to treatment programs for substance abuse, but most relapse. We try to create a better world through revolutions and movements, but the new status quo ends up abusing and oppressing people in the same way that the old status quo did. We look at the problems of people of color and hope that some legislation and time will make it go away, yet the color line still remains one of the fundamental facts and tension points in America and much of the world. What can we do? We need dreamers who imagine outside the box, outside of our current paradigms, offering new ways of understanding, facilitating, and building deeper relationships with each other. Again, Einstein reminds us that, “The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

#5: Our indigenous brothers and sisters consider the dream world to be sacred and we owe it to them to honor dreaming as they have.

The injury, death, and symptoms of trauma left in the wake of the genocide of America’s indigenous people are overwhelming – shame and guilt that most American’s survive via our defense systems and denial. Along with the injury and neglect of our indigenous populations comes the neglect of indigenous wisdom and ways of being, thinking, and relating that have always been connected to the earth and to dreaming. Making a connection to our dreams is one small, perhaps very small, way of holding on to and valuing the native culture that grew out of this land and nurtured by the original people of this land.

#6: Dreams express our unique and creative brilliance equalizing the light we all share.

No matter how different we are in IQ, physical capacity, and other conventional or arbitrary norms of evaluation, we all dream. Further, we find in our dreams a wildly and profoundly creative, psychological, and spiritual genius and insight. Whether sick or healed, a guru or a fool, each night each of us dreams of what we are less aware of during the day. Regardless of the person and their station in waking life, the brilliance in symbolism in their dreams, the genius in their crafting, and a dream’s capacity to see through the narrow boxes of convention, seems to be the same for all people.

#7: Dreams tell the truth about our inner diversity – we are not only “one,” we are “many.” 

I think I am “David,” you think you are “you.” But dreams show how we are both sinner and saint, child and elder, Muslim and Jew, man and woman, gay and straight, able bodied and dying of illness, brave and terrified. Further, dreams show how these parts of us relate to each other, instead of falling into the trap of thinking that one way is right while the other is wrong or that resolutions will come from one way triumphing over another. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, our inner and outer diversity “inter-are.” Nhat Hanh writes, “Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.” Dreams declare, with emphatic repetition that we are not one, we are many, tied in an intricate web of life together.  We, in all of our diversity, “inter-are.”

David Bedrick is an author and speaker. His newest book, Revisioning Activism, provokes critical thinking, feeling, and dialogue. The book is comprised of essays that broaden our vision of activism to include how the social/political world impacts the inner lives of people, how dialogue across diverse viewpoints can impact hearts and minds, and how psychology can play a role as a social-change agent.  Revisioning Activism is a daring call to empower activism and see ourselves as individuals intimately woven into a web of relationships and social issues.

How to Create Fulfilling Relationships After Experiences of Abuse

hanging heart
Photo Credit: Something old, something new by Rachel Samanyi via Flickr CC BY 2.0

by Niyati Evers, MAPW

I am pleased to share this article by my friend and colleague, Niyati Evers, MAPW, and diplomate in Process Work. Niyati is a sex-positive therapist with Alchemy of Eros, a Portland, Oregon-based professional counseling services organization that seeks to create a welcoming, non-judgmental space where people can explore issues around relationships, intimacy, power, passion, desire, sexuality, life transitions, and personal transformation.

This article has been edited and condensed from its original version.

Many people experience abuse and trauma. Abuse may occur in adult life, during childhood, or through experiences of war and other traumatic events, and can take many forms, from physical and sexual abuse to emotional and psychological forms of abuse. If you are currently in an abusive relationship, experiencing recent trauma, or need immediate help, click here for a list of resources.

What Constitutes Abuse?

Process-oriented Psychology defines abuse as a situation where one person consciously or unconsciously misuses their power over another person, and where there is a power differential that makes it impossible, dangerous, or extremely risky for the person who is being abused to defend themselves.

Having lived through an abusive relationship myself, I know firsthand how hard it can be to come to terms with these experiences and the scars they leave behind. It can be challenging to navigate those inner scars and painful memories when trying to create new and fulfilling relationships.

Past experiences of abuse often reverberate in the present, and triggers may show up in a person’s bodily sensations.

Past trauma may manifest through visceral, physical responses that don’t seem to make sense or correspond to the current situation. The circumstances that cause these responses are sometimes called triggers. My personal triggers often involve some kind of sudden or unexpected noise. One of my triggers, for example, is a loud knock on the door—it can send my heart racing as I catch my breath in my throat.

It’s difficult to get rid of these triggers. They seem to get embedded in memory during a time in your life when you needed to be on high alert because your physical, emotional, or mental survival was at stake. Triggers function like an internal warning system, letting you know that there’s danger ahead.

In abusive situations, a watchful, high-alert mindset often becomes second nature. Having lived with a partner who could suddenly change from charming, gregarious, and playful into a vicious and violent monster, I learned how to watch for and read subtle signals that indicated imminent changes in his state of mind. This was my way of protecting myself from the abuse that would inevitably follow his mood shifts.

Sadly, as many of us know and have experienced, abusive behavior frequently repeats itself. My previous partner was a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. After living through war and violence, he too was deeply traumatized.

Knowing that it’s not easy to change our triggers, and that these negative feelings do not readily disappear, how do we navigate life after trauma without repeating cycles of abuse? How can we transform our experiences in ways that allow us to have healthy and happy relationships?

  1. Know Your Triggers

Triggers differ from person to person, depending on the kind of abuse each person experienced. Your trigger may be a sudden, loud sound; or the feeling of being approached too close, too fast; or the way someone touches you, or where they touch you. Your triggers are specific to you and your history.

Knowing what triggers “set you off” is helpful in many ways: This knowledge can help you put your own reaction in perspective and differentiate it from what’s actually happening in the moment.

By letting a partner know what your triggers are, you can help them understand where your responses are coming from. This can go a long way towards preventing painful conflicts between you and for your partner(s).

  1. Get to Know Your Triggered State

Knowing how you tend to behave, feel, and react when you are triggered can deepen your understanding of yourself and your relationships. It allows you to have constructive and supportive conversations with your partner(s) about what’s going on and what each of you needs, rather than responding from a reactive, defensive standpoint.

One of the ways in which I behave when I am triggered is that my “lawyer mind” tends to take over. I withdraw emotionally and I question my partner’s behavior from a place of suspicion. My current partner has told me that, when this happens, he feels like he is on the “witness stand,” that he’s being interrogated. Recognition of this pattern gave me the awareness to explore the feeling behind my reactions.

  1. Learn to Set Boundaries in Direct and Constructive Ways

If you have lived through an abusive situation, you may find it overwhelmingly difficult to connect with personal power after trauma. Your relationship with power may be colored by very negative and destructive experiences. You may feel a great deal of fear when using your body or voice in a way that could affect another person.

One of the major challenges for people who have survived abuse lies in their relationship with power. Abuse often undermines a sense of personal power.  If you cannot connect to your own power, you may inadvertently bury your aggression and rage, causing these feelings to emerge in passive, indirect, harmful ways in your relationships, such as

  • ignoring a partner
  • withdrawing emotionally
  • blaming or guilting a partner unfairly

In its most essential nature, power is neutral. It is energy—energy you can use in positive or in negative ways. The good news is that positive power builds its own momentum: the more positive experiences you have of using your power in your relationships in constructive and direct ways, the safer you’ll feel to keep connecting to and expressing your power.

  1. Understand Your Inner Abuser

People who have experienced abuse may repeat the cycle inwardly, against themselves. Your inner abuser may shame and blame you for what happened, using any kind of “lesson from the past” as a way to criticize you: “See, if you had only listened to yourself better or stood up for yourself more. You brought it on yourself by not being stronger and speaking up.” While it seems like the “inner abuser” wants you to protect yourself better, this voice perpetuates the abuse by blaming you while ignoring the circumstances and power differentials that surrounded the abuse.

The inner abuser also doesn’t allow you to experience the real feelings and real losses that follow abuse. In our culture, there is a tendency to view victimhood negatively—and while each of us can get stuck in feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, that doesn’t negate the facts of abuse. In an abusive situation, you were the victim. To heal from trauma, you need to make space for feelings of loss, grief, fear, and rage—feelings you couldn’t feel at the time because, in situations of abuse, it is often unsafe to show any feelings at all.

  1. Let Go of Impossible Expectations

Letting your partner know about your triggers does not mean that your partner will never trigger you. To expect that of anyone is not only unfair to the other person—it also creates a dynamic of over-cautiousness where the other person may feel like they have to “walk on eggshells” around you.

Yes, you have every right to expect that your partner(s) treat you with respect. At the same time, it is important not to hold your partner responsible for your triggers. Your triggers are part of your history. It’s critical to learn how to distinguish between when abuse is happening or repeating itself (and your reaction is appropriate to the actual situation); and when your reaction emerges in response to a trigger and from your sense of your own history.

At the same time, communicating about your triggers will help your partner understand why you may have seemingly “disproportionate” reactions. Meta-communication, or naming what you are noticing or experiencing in the moment,  is one helpful tactic. Meta-communicating with your partner may sound like this: “I’m triggered—I need space to process this. I will come back into the relationship later, but right now I need to come back into my own skin first.”

The Power of Sensitivity

Knowing you have lived through an experience of abuse doesn’t turn you into “damaged goods” or make you a worse partner. On the contrary: the sensitivity and awareness that people who live through abuse develop by necessity can be a huge asset in any relationship. If you have experienced abuse, you will pick up on information and see signals others may overlook. Your experience often magnifies your ability to empathize with others’ feelings.

Know that having lived through the abuse of power can potentially make you an expert and teacher in how to use power in ways that heal rather than hurt, nurture instead of demean, and deepen instead of destroy relationships.

Read Niyati’s full article, or listen to the podcast, on the Alchemy of Eros blog.

Eating Meditations: A Practice of Equanimity, Gratitude and Blessing

Photo Credit: “Street Eats” by satanoid via Flickr CC BY 2.0

by Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D. and Rami Henrich, LCSW

Can mindfulness be useful for difficulties with food and eating habits?  Many think so. Here is an exercise I came across years ago that may help you slow down, name your experience, start to tune into your body and be thoughtful about how you nourish yourself.

For this approach, at first, try using a small portion of food, like a piece of fruit, or a small bite-size piece of bread or chocolate.  It is also lovely to savor a morning beverage in this way. Whole fruits, like oranges or apples, work well as your practice of mindfulness related to food advances.

Try this practice at a time when you are not feeling super hungry. Take your time with each step and use this exercise as an experiment.  Taking a simple breath between steps can help you stay focused and present. See if you can learn something new about yourself and eating.

  1. Become aware of looking at the food — you may mentally note “seeing, seeing,” as you look at it. Use a few moments to notice your experience of looking at the food. If other thoughts come or something disturbs you, pause, take a simple breath and release it slowly, letting any thoughts rise and fall. Return your attention to your breath or the experience of looking.
  2. After noticing your process of looking,  you can observe your state of mind — what is your state mind?  You may notice the desire to reach for the food, the craving perhaps for pleasant taste, or something else.  Note or name your state of mind.  For example,  “wanting.”
  3. Then, wait or look for an impulse to move toward the food you are looking at.  For example, note the intention to reach out your hand and move it out mindfully.  Use your awareness to follow the sensations, thoughts and feelings that are arising and passing away in the stretching of that hand. You may mentally note “reaching.”
  4. Continue in this way. Noticing and then naming your state of mind or action to yourself.  You may note “touching” and “lifting” up a piece of food. You may note “smelling” and then “placing” the bit of food in your mouth, then “tasting” and “chewing”.  You may also be aware of more discreet sensations of biting, or of texture and temperature.
  5. As you note “smelling” , “tasting” and “chewing,” you may become aware of the food as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Again if thoughts come return to the breath and the physical act of chewing or tasting.
  6. Take note of subtle mental reactions, associations or experiences towards the smell, texture or taste. These are more marginalized senses than vision and hearing. We tend to glide over them but they offer important ways to enrich our experience of food.
  7. You may note the desire or “wanting” for the more pleasant taste or aversion to unpleasant taste. Accept this and focus on the sensation you are having in your body versus your evaluation of it as good or bad.  For example, if you are taste something bitter, get curious and see if you can detect more subtlety in the bitterness. Where do you taste the bitterness in your mouth? Is there an after taste that is different than the initial impression you had? Is there a pungent or stringent quality? Try to deepen your experience of what you taste by using your awareness more.
  8. You may also broaden the lens of attention and consider your state of mind while eating: are you aware of  craving or greediness? Am I thinking, planning, re-living conversations, critiquing the food? What am I doing with my mind other than experiencing the food?  Can I shift my attention to focus more completely on the food?  Don’t force your awareness but try gently to expand or focus it on  the taste, smell, texture, temperature, consistency, etc…
  9. If you like, make some written notes of what you experienced and learned. Did you find something new in your experience? Did you learn something?  If so, reflect on that new learning or experience and express a simple gratitude for that awareness.