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

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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.

Why Psychoanalysis?

These days I am painfully aware that the field of psychotherapy is struggling under the weight of demands for quick fixes – demanded both by insurance companies and by the public in general. The truth is that we are culturally conditioned to expect the brightest, shiniest, most perfect-est products at half the price and delivered within 30 minutes or less. We all want the quick fix – this is why chocolate, alcohol, drugs, and binge-watching TV shows are so popular. When someone says she’s depressed (or complains that her co-worker is a bitch, her husband is a jerk, and so on), it’s very hard to explain – in a quick, convincing way, why doing deep emotional work is worth the trouble and the expense, why it’s worth it to look deeper into those feelings. We want to give that person a cookie, a drink, or a hug, and hope they “feel better”. Most of us really don’t learn that there is any other way.

Apple on tree - Dreamstime

Image source: Dreamstime

I do it myself at times – act on the wish to make some problem go away. It’s painful watching someone suffer, and the wish is to make it go away for both that person’s sake and my own. But beyond that, deeper than that, I wholeheartedly believe in the enormous potential of psychoanalytic work. It’s not just so that you can feel better, have someone to talk to, or even stop drinking – although these are indeed important. But in my heart of hearts, what psychoanalysis is really for is to find the connection to one’s own truth and to have the real possibility of owning it and living it in the world. That all sounds beautiful and poetic – so let me get more specific with an actual example.

I started psychoanalysis while in grad school (training as an acupuncturist), and it was a natural fit for me because I have always been introspective. My analyst was amazing – insightful, caring, real, and deeply available to me on an emotional level. After 3-4 sessions, I started realizing that no amount of self-help books would offer me what psychoanalysis did – the opportunity to learn how to relate in an authentic way. When I first started, I was extremely anxious and vigilant, watching my analyst’s face for the slightest signs of disapproval, and wanting to do whatever it took to show her how hard I was working. But here’s the thing: until I was in that particular situation with an analyst who was deeply emotionally attuned to me, I had no idea how anxious I was and how vigilant. These tendencies got named and worked through. My fear of judgment lessened. I began to learn how to actually interact and speak from my own center and not to fear authority – first with my analyst, and then also with the rest of my relationships. The difference was the lived experience with her. She wasn’t just “delivering” psychoanalytic nuggets for me to digest – she was living in the unique relationship with me. No matter how many self-help books I read (and I started reading them when I was 13!!), none could substitute for that lived experience. No amount of intellectually understanding my issues could substitute for the experience of looking my analyst in the eye and saying, “I’m mad at you” – something I wasn’t allowed to say to anyone as a child.

This had such a profound effect on me that I became an analyst myself, in the hopes of offering as many people as possible these experiences of a different relationship, one where they’re cared for and held, while having their erroneous beliefs gently shaken up and reworked. A quick-fix won’t do it – it took years for us to get our personalities wired the way they are, and it takes a long time for them to get rewired. But it is so worth the energy, sweat, tears, and money. All the research (including in neuropsychology), as well as countless people’s personal experience, points to the truth that there is no substitute for true, human connection at the level of the heart.

I won’t bother trying to convince the insurance companies of all this. I just hope to appeal to the people out there who are wondering why they keep picking partners who are wrong for them, who feel terrified whenever their boss comes around, who suffer with nightmares, who have shoved away their grief because their families implicitly demanded it, and who have lost all sight of ever having their own authentic life. To all of you I say: please, for the love of something deep within you, find an analyst who fits you (that’s important), and do the work. You won’t be alone at it (maybe for the first time in your life!), and you will get something you really and truly cannot get in any other way.

 

The Map Versus the Territory, Part II: Trial by Fever

(If you haven’t read the first part of this blog, you can do so here. It will help you to understand what I mean by “The Map versus the Territory”.)

Thermometer

As I learn more and more about working with the body and how it intersects with psychoanalytic work, it becomes more and more obvious that unless I “practice what I preach”, it won’t mean very much. It would be like having a conference on meditation with no experiential components. And, because this is actually more challenging than it might seem, I would like to share with you one of my own experiences of learning the difference between the Map and the Territory.

As Reginald (“Reggie”) Ray talks about, our culture has grown fearful of and thus discourages us from trusting our own bodies. The minute something goes “wrong” – we get a headache, heartburn, or whatever else – there is a myriad options available to “fix” it. We are not encouraged to listen to our bodies, let alone follow their cues. For example, a headache might signal fatigue or hunger, but rather than rest or eat, we might pop 2 Advil and keep on going. Heartburn might signal sensitivity to a particular food, but as long as we have antacids, that doesn’t matter. Furthermore, we give over the responsibility for our own bodies and lives to the “authorities” – doctors, pharmacists, spiritual leaders, and so on. You get the picture. There is a great deal more to be said about this, but I’ll stop here to share my own experience.

I had come down with the flu, for the first time in probably over 15 years. For nearly 3 days, I had a raging fever, and a bunch of other, fairly familiar symptoms I don’t need to list. My own background in bodywork (my acupuncture and Chinese Medicine training) has taught me that all of these symptoms are actually a natural manifestation of the body fighting a pathogen, and that, for the most part, all I needed to do was let it do that. Yes, there are the zinc lozenges, essential oil diffusions, and baking soda gargles to aid the process, but for the most part, I knew to drink fluids and rest.

Despite my extensive training in alternative medicine, my trust in the body’s processes lasted for about a day and a half. After a night and a full day with a fever of 101, I began to worry that it would never go down, that it was a sign of something worse, and on and on and on. (At some point, I was sure it must be a sign of cancer.) Anxiously, I bought Cold & Flu medicine with 1-day shipping, and Googled “how to reduce a fever” on my phone. And I checked my temperature incessantly to see if it had gone down.

At some point, it finally dawned on me to think about my training with Reggie Ray’s materials, and to ask myself what this experience is here to teach me. The answer was immediately obvious: this was a lesson in trusting my body and how difficult it is to actually practice. My panicked search for a “fix” is what happened when being in the territory of my body – which was quite uncomfortable and unfamiliar – became too challenging. I escaped into the “map” – into my thoughts about the symptoms, into my beliefs about the body and so on. The map was also uncomfortable (who here would voluntarily choose to be panicked?), but it gave me a sense of control and thus a hope for safety. There was a goal to be accomplished, to get myself back to a state I recognize. My fever was nowhere near any danger zones that I’m well aware of, and yet I felt very uneasy with the experience of letting things run their course.

I didn’t count on this experience to be so illuminating, but it was. I know I’m not alone in this, even though each person’s individual manifestations of not trusting their bodies are different from mine. It also feels like a very basic kind of experience, kind of like a “trust fall”, but encompasses in itself an enormously important lesson with very deep implications.

Given my personal work, my psychoanalytic training, and my study of this area of somatic awareness, I’ve discovered that most of us are disembodied and afraid to trust the cues and experiences of our bodies. For example, wherever you are right now, can you conscioulsy, and without moving your feet, feel your middle toe? It’s harder than it seems! And this is only one example of the many small disembodiments that we all live with, most of the time. As I noted above, a big part of it is cultural. Aboriginal and native people have and had a very different approach to life, paying close attention to the earth, the nature kingdom, and their own bodies. With the advent of our modern culture, we have disconnected from these truly vital sources of information and nourishment, and have grown to prefer the map (our intellectual understanding or image of how things are) to the territory, the raw experience. Our bodies have become slaves to our minds.

Let me move from this dark state to say that it is indeed very possible to reconnect to our bodies and to these other more subtle but vastly more powerful sources of energy and nourishment than our limited, cramped minds could ever be. To me, the work of analysis coupled with meditation, both of which bring in bodily awareness, helps one to recognize all the ways you might have dissociated from your body and why. This is the very process of making the unconscious conscious, which must necessarily include the work of learning to trust your body to deeper and deeper degrees. In other words, this is how you can begin to truly own your body and discover the deepest truth of who you are.

The Map versus the Territory

I’d like to share with you an idea that has helped me gain a greater understanding of both life and the therapy process — the analogy of the Map versus the Territory. I learned about it from the author and Buddhist teacher Reginald (Reggie) Ray. After I describe the idea, I will share with you a personal experience that will hopefully illustrate it in an authentic way.Map on Hands

The territory is our direct experience of something, experience that includes the body. You are in a concert hall and are swept up in the flow of music, your heart beating to the rhythm of the music, your soul singing along, time disappearing altogether. Or, you are with someone who is spewing forth a great deal of anger, and you feel your body contract and your breath becomes shallow, perhaps you become triggered and regress, or you feel your muscles tense and get ready to act. You may or may not notice all these details, because noticing them may mean you’ve stepped out of the experience and are naming and labeling its various component parts. The territory is the totality of embodied experience, before words or ideas come in. We may call it presence, assuming that you are indeed there to experience it.

On the other hand, the map is a set of concepts and labels that describe something, whether it be an experience or a person/place/thing or anything else in existence. The map can be immensely important. For example, laying out the map of one’s childhood and learning its ins and outs helps one become increasingly comfortable with the details of what happened. However, I have discovered that most of us (myself included) tend to cling to the map and avoid the territory. The realm of ideas and logical processing can feel a lot safer, especially when one grows up in an atmosphere where exploring one’s authenticity was unwelcome or even actively prohibited. The head can be a safe place to escape to, and to still have the sense of sanity and even productivity. In analytic/therapy terms, we call this dissociation. That in itself is not necessarily something that does damage — dissociation is a necessary defense we all have. If we did not dissociate the certainty of death, for example, we might not be able to function on a daily basis. What I am pointing to is more subtle, and to areas where we might dissociate even though the actual present situation does not warrant it — and in that case, dissociation is damaging in that it keeps us from living fully. For example, one might sit through that same glorious concert and stare at her phone or be completely preoccupied with her To Do List and thus dissociate the awareness of the music altogether.

In an analysis/psychotherapy, we work to discover and fill out the map of one’s life leading up to the present. Every detail that one recalls and pieces together throughout the work — that is, the map — becomes more complete and the person begins to own that narrative more and more fully. However, this is only part of the work. In a therapy that explores the map alone, the person will likely come to feel stuck and largely unchanged. (This was the challenge of psychoanalysis when it was first born – people came to learn all about their defenses and neuroses but did not actually change their patterns and ways of being.) The other, more difficult part, is exploring the territory of that map, fleshing it out. To me, this is the very kernel of psychoanalytic work. Exploring the territory is terrifying if you have never been encouraged to feel, to express yourself, and to explore your depths. If you grew up being shamed for your body, for your expressions, and indeed for who you are, you have necessarily grown to dissociate from yourself. Facing the territory of that experience is the only way to process it in a way where you can own and integrate it rather than fear it.

Facing that territory can literally feel like walking into a dark wilderness filled with snakes, spiders, and dangerous animals. This is where you need a guide and a witness to your process, someone to hold your experience without withdrawing from it, and someone to help make the forays into that wilderness feel safe and manageable. This is why it is nearly impossible to change at a deep level when doing the work on your own (and I’ve tried!!). On your own, you might be able to put together a pretty decent map, although you may avoid parts of it anyway. But when it comes to facing the territory, you are that much more likely to simply dissociate what really needs your attention, indeed may be clamoring for it.

As Reginald Ray says, you need an “other”. We need to find ourselves reflected in another person, emotionally held. This begins at birth and remains true for the rest of our lives. The ascetics who retreat to the forests or the mountains find themselves reflected in nature, or in their own bodies. But we are always in relation. Recently, I became aware of the truth of this experientially (i.e. in the territory) while meditating at home by myself. I reached a place of stagnation, and began to cry. I noticed that I suddenly felt alone and wanted my analyst to know I was crying. Even though on a conscious level I might say that I wouldn’t want to be seen while crying, I felt a deeper, more primal part of myself. I was like the infant left alone for a while, who cried and wanted – needed even – to have my cries heard and responded to. Of course, I am also an adult and could obviously survive not having anyone there to witness my crying in that moment. But this experience led me to touch – this time in a much safer way – the territory I’d dissociated from previously. Also, I was able to go to this place within myself while alone only because at this point I have deeply internalized my analyst.

It feels vulnerable to share my experience above. In fact, this whole post feels more vulnerable than I expected it to. Many voices are clamoring that it is somehow unprofessional or inappropriate, that it will be misunderstood or judged. This is where I tend to constrict, where the territory becomes challenging to be in/with — sharing something deep and delicate about my personal experience. And I can easily delete the preceding paragraph, but I want to share with you not only the experience but the difficulty of being with it. That is the difference between the map and the territory.

Links to Reginald Ray’s work:

His book, Touching Enlightenment

His YouTube channel, Dharma Ocean Teachings

If you got this post via email, please click here to view the post on the web and leave comments (at the bottom of the page).

Fear of Joy

We’re all pleasure-seekers, aren’t we? There’s sugar, alcohol, sex, shopping, TV, and so many others that we all use, to have that brief burst of pleasure to soothe our stress, pain, boredom, or any number of things. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all seek that kind of instant gratification, a lot of the time. Any of these can reach addiction levels, but for the most part, they’re simply everyday ways to take care of ourselves as a way to keep going through the day (and week, month, or year, too).

But this is not the sort of joy that I’m going to attempt to talk about here. We certainly don’t fear those convenient (and useful) daily soothers/pleasures. What I mean when I use the word “joy” is a kind of deep fulfillment, a sense of having a full, expansive experience of allowing some real part of ourselves live fully. (I notice having used the word “full” several times here – I believe this is in contrast to the emptier, more inhibited or closed-off ways one might spend a lot of time living in.) However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that as much as we all want that kind of expansive fulfillment, we fear it just as much or even more.

I am not the first one to put forth the idea that we actually fear joy. I recall coming across books such as Alexander Lowen’s Fear of Life, and Stella Reznick’s The Pleasure Zone: Why We Resist Good Feeling. I’ll admit that I didn’t finish either of them, but even many years ago when I found them, I was intrigued by this seemingly paradoxical idea. And now this topic feels so vast to me, that I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate it all, but would like to try to at least put forth some of my thoughts about it.

At a very deep level, I believe that it’s part of human nature to seek out this kind of expansive pleasure (not only the instant gratification type). At our core, I feel we are powerful, creative beings, each of us with a very unique blend of ideas, perspectives, and talents to offer to the world. However, for reasons I will attempt to describe below, I believe that we also deeply fear this kind of way of being. Having sat with this particular question for a very long time, I have discovered a few reasons for this fear.

First, my experience has been that experiencing true joy is vulnerable. If you just let yourself revel in something wonderful, you may be unprepared for something painful that may happen later, and that much more shocked. Or, someone could take advantage of your openness somehow (because you are too busy doing a happy dance, for instance!) There must be some evolutionary advantage to being vigilant for bad, scary things that can happen at any time – to our recent human relatives it was literally a matter of life and death, both to those living and foraging in the jungle, and those living in times of war.

Another reason I’ve discovered has to do with the fact that humans are social beings and long to connect with others. If one day you took some big, important risk and then felt a sense of profound joy, the most natural response would be to want to share it with someone. But whom could you express it to? Would you have the words? And would anyone even get it? My sense is that most of us dampen our positive feelings to either protect others from being aware of their own sense of joylessness, or perhaps to avoid jealousy for our joy. Finding someone to simply revel in it with us is harder than it would seem. Just as it would be vulnerable to be alone with something painful, it is also vulnerable to feel immense joy that you may not be able to share with someone who can simply be in it with you. So it gets muted before it even happens.

There is also the fact that most of us have learned to dampen our feelings and avoid being with them, whether they’re positive or not. It takes us a long time to become comfortable with simply having a feeling. When it’s emotional pain, we seek relief, we want to shake it off, numb it out, get rid of it as soon as possible. And what I’ve discovered – at least for myself – is that the same goes for joy. I have had these full, expansive moments, and they seem effortless and incredible when they happen. My soul fills up, and I feel indescribable gratitude and love. Usually I have tears of joy, too. But time and again, this is surprisingly, immensely challenging to just be with, as challenging as the deepest pain – for all of the above reasons. How do you stay with something you can’t articulate, can’t share, and feel too vulnerable with?

I believe this can be expanded further beyond having an isolated experience of elation to think about a greater life experience – living life as an expression of one’s deepest passions and truths. Again, as much as we all agree that this would be phenomenal, most people inhibit themselves from creating this kind of life for themselves, or even from being aware of the possibility that that kind of life is possible. All of the above reasons – and I’m sure many others (please share them!) – blend in with our personal histories of being told to be quiet, that we should stop laughing, that we are no good, and all the other ways we are told to dampen our innate joy. We start to believe that life is suffering. If something positive happens, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. To add to the books I mentioned, much of this has also been written in books on Buddhist thought.

Here, I feel like I am supposed to make some kind of encouraging statement about allowing yourself to feel and discovering your joy, but I know that it’s much harder than it sounds. As I often feel with my blog posts, this topic could easily fill a book or a conference, and certainly can be a lifetime’s worth of reflection. So instead, I will simply say that I hope some of what I wrote has resonated with you, and I would very much enjoy hearing/reading about it if you are inclined to share.