The Ritual of Everyday Life

​Like most people, I tend to dislike cleaning. I do it because it needs to get done, but it’s not really fun. It is literally a chore, something people compare dull, repetitive, and annoying tasks to. However, I have recently discovered a surprising element to chores that made the process become fascinating for me. I will share this below, but first, I want to share a memory that sprung to mind when I made this discovery.

Washing dishes - Pixabay

When I was 9 or 10 years old, my family and I were expecting company — a family friend and his son were visiting us​, which was a rather rare occurrence. The son (I’ll call him Sam) and I were good friends, and I was thrilled to see him because he lived on the other side of town and we went to different schools, so I got to see him very, very rarely. In preparation for their visit, we all got busy cleaning the house top to bottom. And part of the reason this memory stands out for me as much as it does is that I noticed that I felt quite differently toward these same chores that I normally hated doing. I found myself thrilled to clean my room and wash the kitchen counters. Suddenly, dusting the bookshelves was kind of exciting. This was such a powerful experience, that decades later I remember it more vividly than I remember seeing Sam and spending time together during that particular visit.

What was it that shifted my perspective so powerfully? One could say that the excitement of the goal ahead (the special occasion of seeing my friend) is what motivated me to be more engaged with the tasks at hand. This is how I saw it too, until very recently, when I was reflecting on the topic of ritual. When most people think of rituals, they usually think about daily routines, religious practices, or perhaps the obsessive-compulsive rituals that someone can’t seem to stop repeating. But there’s an entire world to ritual that happens literally every day, something we are not often taught to look for. Once I began noticing this, the idea of ritual has created immense meaning in my life.

What happened for me in preparing for Sam’s visit was that I was so thrilled to see him, that to savor the anticipation, cleaning the house became part of the ritual of preparing to see him. This is why it stands out in my memory this much – not because I did a particularly stellar job or because I overcame laziness to do the tasks I normally avoided at all costs (what 9-year-old wouldn’t?). It stands out because this time, the cleaning had a different feeling to it, almost something sacred. It bonded us as a family, as we all worked to create the space in which to welcome cherished guests. We weren’t merely doing chores – we were creating something special.

The more I reflect on the idea of ritual, the more I see it at play on a daily basis. For example, when I put my makeup on in the morning, it’s not just a routine, although that’s a part of it. There is a ritual quality to it because putting on my makeup means I am going to the office to see clients – and during those 10 minutes or so, I start to enter into a different self-state in order to prepare for the day. Similarly, so many other routines in our daily life can be seen as rituals that create a shift in our self-states, a different kind of energy. Washing dishes, rather than a chore that eats up 20 minutes of the evening, can be experienced as a ritual that creates clean dishes and a clean kitchen – with the many deeper implications for an uncluttered mind. Other household or work tasks can gain a similarly rich meaning as well.

The many teachings on mindfulness talk about something very similar, but I see an added element to it – that what I am talking about is not just about being in the moment without trying to escape “boring” or painful reality, but about the conscious creation of something new within one’s life, a shift in awareness and in internal experience. Finding the ritual in everything – taking a shower, getting dressed, cooking, eating, and so on – is what shifts one’s life from a series of routines and chores to a deeper, possibly even spiritual, experience.

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But Other People Have Had it Worse than Me

I hear this phrase so much in my work that I realize that it needs to be addressed more. Rather than writing about it, I decided to record a video that is now on YouTube. You can watch the video below or go to my YouTube channel.

 

There is much to be said about this topic, so please leave comments — either below, or on YouTube below the video.

No Money, No Problem: Part 2 – Now What?

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about how it happens that people continually recreate the situation where they have no money, despite possibly earning enough (or how it might be a struggle to create a situation where they do earn enough). I talked about some of the unconscious forces that might be at work that perpetuate the situation of deprivation and lack that one experienced during childhood – whether that was a literal deprivation (poverty, hunger, lack of resources), or an emotional one (neglect, abuse).

 

First, I’d like to address the fact that Part 1 of the blog received some very powerful responses, both on the blog itself and on social media. The most powerful responses came from people who immigrated to the US from other countries where they lived in poverty and have had to teach themselves how to save money, how to go beyond surviving and begin to thrive financially. Some of my own family members have done just that, either rising through the corporate hierarchies or bettering themselves through education in order to get better-paying jobs. For these people, the experience of poverty and oppression was so dreadful, that they courageously fought to change their circumstances and their financial situations. So, for them, the unconscious forces were quite different than what I described in my post. One dynamic at work there is the fear of reliving those dreadful conditions – to the point where one is compelled to do whatever it takes to avoid them in the future. There is much more to this, and I want to be sure to emphasize that everyone is different and I cannot hope to describe every possible unconscious constellation here. However, I do welcome responses to this post to share your own experiences and insights.

 

And now I will return to the task at hand – addressing the situation where one recreates the deprivation and lack in her or his life through lack of money. While consciously one might be constantly wishing to make more money, dreaming about hitting the lottery, or even being magically rescued by someone with a lot of cash to spare, unconsciously, something altogether different is playing out. Getting to the understanding of unconscious forces at work is the stuff of psychoanalysis and a challenging task indeed. It took me years to recognize it for myself, to piece together the many facets of my life and childhood experience before I could see, clear as day, that for a long time I was unconsciously literally trying to avoid having money. Realizing that on some level money has been tainted with the deprivation, neglect, or abuse of power is an enormous step in the direction of shifting one’s relationship with money. It’s a process that takes time and is very much worth that time.

 

Now what? When am I going to get to the way out of this mess already? Isn’t that why you’ve made it this far into the article? In terms of solutions, lots and lots has been written about it. I’ve listed the tiniest selection below. But while as an analyst, I might suggest a resource I think could be useful, my work with clients is not about prescribing solutions – my work is to help empower and support the person to find their own way through self-knowledge. And what I’ve experienced, both in my own analysis and in my work with clients, is that that empowerment emerges naturally as these unconscious dynamics are recognized and worked through on an emotional level. Money Plant Pixabay

Some questions that might come up around working through money issues are:

  • What is it that might feel dangerous (on an emotional level) about having money (or having anything else, for that matter)? This may seem like a silly question, but it might have some very, very serious answers.
  • Conversely, how might staying broke keep things “simple” (i.e., No Money, No Problem! Again, this is a question that sounds silly on the surface but is actually quite challenging.)
  • How is money tied up in important relationships?
  • How might having money disrupt those relationships, and why might that feel too dangerous to do?
  • Conversely, how might staying poor/broke maintain some important, needed relationships?
  • How might doing better than your family be somehow dangerous as well?
  • What might you have to lose – or fear you might lose – if you were to change your financial situation?

 

I could keep going, but I think this is a good-enough sampling of what might need to be worked through, and also illustrative of how deeply money issues go.

 

Money itself is both literal and symbolic on many levels, representing as well as intertwining with other means of support, nourishment, connection, and so much more. If these experiences are tainted, money can become tainted as well, with manipulation, sadism, control, and other toxic ways of relating. Therefore, in my experience and opinion, to truly work through one’s relationship with money is to work on all of these issues simultaneously – and this is why that work is so challenging and at the same time truly, truly worth the effort (pun intended!).

 

Additional resources:

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by T. Harv Eker

… and literally thousands of others.

No Money, No Problem: A Deeper Look at Having No Money

I’ve worked with a number of clients for whom this scenario is very familiar: they live paycheck to paycheck, and no matter how much or how little they earn in a month, they wind up with nothing in the bank. Somehow, they cover their basics, but there’s nothing left over. They feel ashamed, they tell themselves they should be saving up, they fear the future without any kind of financial cushion to fall back on, and yet month after month, the bank balance goes back to $12. In fact, for a long time, I’ve lived this pattern myself, so I know it inside and out.

So, what is going on here? There can be so many different things at play here, but I am going to describe one very common unconscious dynamic that could be driving this particular pattern.

So, it’s a typical month, and you are making a relatively predictable income. Then, suddenly, something breaks your way and you have some extra money coming your way. It feels amazing, something in you relaxes, you might start thinking about putting away some of that money for the future, fantasizing about how amazing life would be if this “extra” was a regular thing, how you might now be able to afford that trip to see your friend upstate, and so on. Then, this new pocket of ease compels you to go on Amazon and order something extra – something you don’t actually “need” per se, but that makes life a little easier. Or, you order takeout and get something fancy. Maybe you treat yourself to a trip to the clothing store. This new sense of having a bit more in the bank feels so wonderful that you want to commemorate it with a new pair of jeans. You’ve been working so hard, that you do need some treat, something to validate how much you have to hustle and juggle every month. After all, you’ve had so little for so long, you’ve had to deny yourself most luxuries and make do with basics. Maybe none of this is consciously thought – you just make the order and try to enjoy the bounty while it lasts, because you know it won’t.

I know this will feel familiar to many readers. What’s at play here revolves around the experience of deprivation or a sense of lack, often stemming from the far reaches of our childhoods. We get so used to that state, that it’s hard to imagine anything else.  Those of us who came from poverty will have this state ingrained very deeply – but even those who grew up with financial comforts may feel ashamed or guilty about it (or about something else within the primary relationships) and unconsciously punish themselves by living a life of deprivation to make up for it. Whichever way it comes about, it’s the air we breathe, it’s the way we experience equilibrium in life – the life of husting and juggling just feels “normal” even though it certainly doesn’t feel good.

money-2700212_1920 - Pixabay

So, what gets created – and recreated over and over – is a similar state of deprivation, even as consciously you might be wishing for a very different kind of life. And then there are all kinds of issues around the fact that if we grew up in poverty, then we also know that our parents struggled as well. My own mother tells me how when I was 3-4 years old, she would often go hungry in order to feed me. The layers of guilt and shame around having things (including money!) might build even more. Having more money would mean living a life that’s different from (i.e. better than) our parents’, and not wanting to disturb these relationships in our minds, we simply stay where we’ve always been. It’s a kind of equilibrium: no money, no problem…-ish…

Then, what happens when someone like this gets a bit more income in a given month (or week, or even day!) is that unconsciously there is some signal going off, saying that the familiar equilibrium has been disrupted. Consciously it’s a sense of “well I deserve the treat because I’ve worked so hard to get it!” or even “I’ve had to put off buying this because I couldn’t afford it until now!” – and that’s absolutely undeniable, which makes it hard to get underneath that. But what’s underneath is the “compulsion to repeat” (as Freud called it), which drives us to recreate familiar situations, even if they are painful – because there is much in them that needs to be experienced and “worked through.”

When I work with clients and we arrive at this realization, they often ask, “So what do I do to change this?” Seeing how deeply this goes, there might be a kind of despair as to whether it’s even possible to really change anything – or perhaps anger that we’re getting mired in old stuff that keeps us from addressing it in the present. I will explore this in part 2 of this blog post. And as I write this, I very much feel like the analyst who says, “Let’s talk about it next week” – but there’s a reason for that. This is deep stuff that takes time to integrate. But I will say that making these dynamics conscious is an enormous step in itself – where you recognize that on some level you do believe that “no money, no problem” is true. That’s where space opens up for real change.

What’s Behind Laziness?

Almost all of my clients talk about being “too lazy” or “just lazy” as their reason for not doing things they want to do or believe they should do. In the past, I, too, have used this term to describe myself, and my analyst gave me the enormous gift of asking me, “What’s behind that?” Continue reading

This Doesn’t Remind Me of Anything

The other day, I was walking down the street and noticed a really happy, joyful feeling. The weather was perfect, it wasn’t humid, the air smelled fresh and light. I was walking to my office, looking forward to seeing all of that day’s – and that week’s – clients. Given the intensity of New York City and my particular office location right in the center of it all, this joyful feeling took me a bit by surprise.

As I took in another chest-ful of that fresh air, I caught it had a particular scent – and our olfactory sense, as most of us know, is strongly associated with emotion. This is why the scent of vanilla in the air can bring up fond memories of your grandma baking in the kitchen, or the scent of a particular cologne or perfume can evoke vivid memories of your ex.

Often, when there is a crisp, cool breeze like the first cool day of autumn, I get a very sweet, nostalgic feeling of being a young school-girl in Russia, heading to the first day of school in September, wearing my freshly-pressed uniform, excited to start the clean slate that is the new school year. Or, the scent of a warm summer day, with perhaps some freshly-cut grass or warm fruit somewhere, reminds me of my family garden where we would all work during the summer to grow fruits, vegetables, berries, and the like. It was such a special time that when those memories get evoked, I usually tear up. These are both positive memories, but of course, I have many other associations and memories that come up at different times.

But that day, walking to my office, when I noticed that the air smelled wonderful, I found myself searching my mind and coming up with a blank.

Huh. “This doesn’t remind me of anything,” I thought, with a tinge of disappointment and even unease. It was a subtle feeling, but it was there. And just like that, I was in my head, having lost the joyful feeling, as well as the awareness of that crisp, fresh air.

In that moment, I suddenly realized the truth of all those mindfulness teachings – about just how strongly we cling to the past and how hard we work to define our current experience based on something we have already experienced before. It creates a sense of safety and control: I know what is happening now because I’ve been through it before and I know how this goes. It’s instinctual, in a way – we want to protect ourselves from predators, terrible things happening to us, embarrassing ourselves, and so on.

But, as I discovered, this happens not only with scary things – and certainly not only related to scents! – but with everything. Even on that totally relaxed, wonderful Monday morning when I was feeling joyful and inspired, I had a hard time just taking that in, and letting it be a new moment, a new experience. I was glad I recognized this, because in another instance, I might have just “approximated” that experience to something it did remind me of, perhaps the September air I remember as a little girl.

This is about presence and recognizing that we are so primed to categorize and label every experience, that it’s often a challenge to be present even with situations that feel good. But those that don’t – if there’s a disappointment, anger, sadness, a disaster, or something else that’s truly upsetting – we tend to close up even quicker and more firmly.

There is no easy fix – and if you’ve made it this far into this post, you probably already know this. I am sharing this moment and my realizations with you because this is something that connects us as human beings. We all try to escape the present, in obvious or subtle ways. Perhaps we can remind each other of this (over and over!!) and discover not just that this present moment is worth experiencing (regardless of how it may feel) – but that for the rest of your (finite!!) life each next moment can be a new moment to explore.

Money Shame

This is a post on that subject that people have a harder time talking about than sex. But as soon as I started exploring it, I became completely fascinated by how rich and complex it actually is. So I’d like to share with you some of my enormous discoveries here. Dollars - PIXABAY

When I started working on growing my private practice, I quickly came upon a huge issue:

My relationship with money was tied up with all kinds of internal conflict.

I have been learning an immense amount from the work and writings of Tiffany McLain about money in private practice, but in this blog I want to share some thoughts and feelings about money as a whole. Of course, entire books are written on this subject, and I cannot encompass everything that runs through this issue, but I do want to focus on one important element: shame.

Most people would say they want more money, and it seems so simple. Who wouldn’t be elated if an unexpected $1000 check suddenly showed up in the mail or the boss decided to give you a $10,000 raise in salary? And I am not here to contest that. But those are passive ways of money “showing up”.

What about situations where you are asking for money?

Such as, oh I don’t know – setting a fee for services you offer.

There are certainly people do so without hesitation (and if you are one of them, please share your experience in the comments!). However, many are actually struggling with unconscious shame and conflict around asking for, having, and even wanting money in their lives.

Shame was the last emotion I ever expected to encounter when dealing with money. Discomfort – sure. Feeling unskilled at managing a practice at first? Naturally. And yet, there it was – shame, in all its pervasive, unconscious glory.

No one taught us this stuff in school – not only how to manage money, but about our feelings and attitudes around money, the deep, unconscious stuff. But the minute it was time to set my fee as a therapist – despite the fact that office rent in Manhattan is astronomical, and there are quite a few other overhead expenses to account for – I felt anxious.

Who would pay me my full fee? Would they think I’m a fraud? Would they think I’m too young to charge the fees that older, more seasoned analysts charge? And if those are not enough, here’s a doozy: did I deserve to get paid this much?

Instantly, the question becomes that of self-worth. Many rationalizations and fearful defenses showed up immediately: well, the economy sucks. People want to use their insurance and wouldn’t want to pay out of pocket. I’m too inexperienced to charge that much. I’d be making people uncomfortable and strained by asking for so much money per session. Are there even people who make enough to pay so much? I mean, who makes that much money? I certainly never did…

Bingo.

Those pesky years growing up in poverty or close to it, and all kinds of unconscious feelings, are all at work nonetheless. And the feelings are in multitude – anything from the familiarity with (and thus feeling most comfortable with) the scarcity experience to feeling guilty for doing better than my family did at my age.

And there is a lot in between. For example, as a woman, and in my particular life experience, I have often been the emotional caretaker (as have most therapists I know!). Thus, the familiar stance is to put the needs of others before my own – which accounts for a lot of those rationalizations above. How dare I ask to be taken care of (and money in this case is exactly that!), when my job implies that I’m “supposed to” do otherwise? This is where the shame comes in.

So it is not as simple as it may seem. And while I encountered this issue as a therapist trying to build my private practice, many others encounter it in other realms and professions.

Looking at these feelings and issues is crucially important, and the actual reality comes down to 2 points:

  1. Self-care – in order to truly be able to show up and do good work with clients (or whatever your work happens to be), one needs to have her or his needs met well. When it comes to deeply emotional work, this is even more crucial. Sleep, diet, vacations, time with family, and other things need to be in place. And getting paid enough so that one does not need to worry about any of the above expenses (along with all the practical ones like rent, insurance, and so on), is what allows those to be in place. Self-care is not a luxury. 

  2. Clients’ Experience – Whatever work you do with people, whether it’s therapy, bodywork, consulting, or whatever else, it is an investment on their part. To one person that may be $50 per session, and to someone else it might be $200. But what counts is that if they are truly investing in themselves, they will then truly show up and take the work seriously. Even if you were a millionaire and money were not an issue, the client’s experience of investing in him- or herself is crucial.

I will end this with the below, and I am truly curious in your responses to this post, so please share them in the comments below.

Do whatever you need (Mentors! Therapy!! Podcasts! Books! Blogs!)

to find and get a firm hold on the fact that

you are already amazing.

(Yes, you. And I mean it, really feel it.)

You are not a fraud.

You are not a joke.

You worked hard as hell to get to where you are now.

Deep within you is a knowing that what you do has enormous value.

(Once more, with feeling. Yes, you!)

Live (and work) from that place, and others will see it too – but it has to come from you first. The world needs people like you.

Charge accordingly.