Finding my limits

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how much I have to do, how much I want to do, and whether I can make those two points match up.  New Age-ish philosophy would suggest that there are no limits, that limits to oneself are entirely invented by the mind and thus can be transcended simply be believing that There Are No Limits.

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But what if your limits reflect something good and healthy?  What if your “limits” are really your boundaries?   I have limits, for sure.  I have boundaries, physical, social, and behavioural boundaries that I don’t generally cross or allow others to cross.  These things keep me safe, maintain my integrity.

Boundaries are a body experience.  When you feel yourself sitting on the chair, or feel your feet pushing into the floor, you have an increased awareness of your body in space. As you push those feet down, you can feel your muscles become activated, feel the blood flow more vigorously, feel your inner space.  You know, without even having words for it, where you begin and where the floor ends.   And you also know that the floor can and will support you without invading you or making you conform or hurting you in some way.

However, if that floor was made of Jell-O, or was covered with nails sticking point up, you would have a different experience.  You would still have your boundary….where my body is….where the floor is….but your boundary would tell you that you cannot trust the floor to hold you, or to hold you without impinging on you.

Your BODY tells you that, when you explore the boundary between your body and the floor. Limits are a good thing, I tell you!

I have social limits as well.   I don’t let people touch me without permission.  I don’t say “yes, I’d be happy to do that” if I really am not happy to do that.   I do not invite people to my home whom I don’t want to see.   Those limits are also good for me.

In other places, I want to test my limits, and maybe even shift the boundaries a bit.  Getting older has actually, much as I hate to admit it, meant that my joints are stiffer and less flexible.  When I practice yoga, for example, I try to ease my body gently past some of these physical limits, or boundaries.   When I run, I notice that I can shift the limits….training has that effect.   But those are active choices I get to make.  I am happy to know what my limits are, and grateful that when I want to move past them, I can sometimes do that.  But more grateful that I have them firmly in place for my own safety.  Boundaries help us know where and what we are, and help us in relating to other people.  More on that part…later….
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Just noticing….

Blooming cactus LACI am fortunate in my life to be able to take a bit of time to contemplate, to reflect, and to consider my experiences.  I am not often in reactive mode any more: I don’t know if that is a change due to my age or to my life circumstances.  Maybe both…and maybe a lot of therapy in the middle has been influential!

Anyway, I have noticed two things lately that have made an impact on my thinking. First is this irony:    I recently posted with great joy about the silver maple trees preparing to bloom (see here).  Well, now they are open and my sinuses are responding:  I am foggy-headed, thick-thinking, and have a dull pain that moves around in my head.  Yes, I can claim the source but it still left me wandering around the house yesterday, wondering what it was I needed, what did I want, why was I feeling so…bleagh?

So I did what I know is the thing for me to do when I can’t figure it out.  I drank two glasses of water and headed to the gym.

What is it about the gym?  What is it about moving all that energy around in your body that makes you feel so much more like yourself?   I don’t have any answer for that, but the experience made me remember a “rule” I had made for myself back when I was running long-distance.  The “rule” was this:  “It is always better to run.”   This was a guideline for when I was waffling around indecisively.   Without fail, running improved my waffling and generally improved my sinus symptoms, even though I was often out in the offending allergens.

sitting peacefully
thanks to smileforme99 on fotothing

The second one is a bit different.  I have an injury to a shoulder:  something a bit intractable that I hope will be cured by strengthening my back and chest, providing more stability to a joint that is easily strained.   Today is a rough day for the shoulder, probably because of having to use it to work with back and chest.   I found myself wallowing, in that fogged-in, wandery kind of way, having work to do, having things to consider, having many items that probably needed my attention, but being completely unable to point my attention where I wanted it to go.  I finally acknowledged some organic realities:  I was hungry, my shoulder hurt, and more caffeine was not going to unfog this brain.  So I found food and ibuprophen and then took twenty minutes cuddled up under a blanket, gazing at my most miraculous blooming cactus and breathing.  I didn’t try to do anything at all, didn’t “try” to meditate, contemplate, or even reflect.   I just sat with what I was experiencing.

Latte LAC
Clever barista at Second Cup

It seemed sudden, my awareness in an instant, my noticing that my shoulder was easing and more relaxed, my head was clearing, and my upper body beginning to relax.  For the first time I was able to see clearly how that low-level discomfort (read: pain) in my shoulder was creating tension in neck, jaw, head and face, and how creating some space there shifted everything.  Soon enough I could get up and move into doing something…not because I HAD to (I can always do what I HAVE to do) but because I actually wanted to…my body felt more like it belonged to me.

I have been a body psychotherapist for years and for years before that I was in training and in therapy myself.  Yet I am continually amazed to see how my body IS me, and how the messages from the parts of me other than my mind are so very influential.  Allowing for space and time to explore my inner experience allows me to see how that experience may limit me, or how it may free me.  The experience of chronic, low-level pain pulls on energy reserves and causes the body to tense as if to protect itself.   Finding a respite from the pain means that the body has a respite from its vigilance, and there is more energy available for living life.

The Perfect Mommy: the myth that binds

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There is a terrible mythology operating among sensible, educated, intelligent women, and the result of this mythology is a whole host of trouble:  increasing stress levels, anxious thinking, moodiness, roller-coastering emotions and self-esteem.  This is the myth of the perfect mother, who, with no apparent effort, has perfect children.  She is totally self-sacrificing, perpetually loving, has boundless energy to give to her children, and her life, because she has sacrificed everything, is perfect.  Her children lead charmed lives, as well, because she is a perfect mother. 

Do you believe this?   I know that in your intellectual mind, you understand that it is an impossibility, unachievable.  We all “know” that nobody is perfect.    But deep in your heart of hearts, do you believe that if only you are perfect you can protect your baby and child from harm?  That you can support her development to the degree that she can become something wonderful and special?  That if you breastfeed longer, play the right music, keep her away from screens, anticipate her every need, that you can protect her from anything that might befall her?

Many moms seem to have this belief underlying their everyday behaviour.  There is a terrible fear of being less than perfect and thus putting your baby at risk.  And maybe the worst part is this “perfect” is a moving target!  Today it is about co-sleeping.  Tomorrow it is about enforcing a schedule.   Avoid peanut butter.  No, no, offer it early, prevent allergies!  When you are in the middle of this, it is impossible to see the whole context…. which is that the “right” way to raise baby is going to be different next week….and in five years, you’ll look back and say, oh, I can’t believe we thought that was right….

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A mom got really angry with me once for suggesting that she could maybe try to be a “good-enough” mom.  This concept is time-honoured, and I’ll get to the background in a minute.   The mom who got angry thought that she would be short-changing her children if she only was “good enough.”  She needed to be more than that, more than even what is possible, in order to justify her having these children in her life.  She couldn’t relax into the idea of being “good enough” because that would mean she didn’t actually deserve to have children.  What a painful, limiting way to think….and she wasn’t completely aware of it until it came out in therapy.  When those ideas get some light and air in therapy, then we have the ability to think about them, and decide if we want to believe them.   We develop the capacity for making choices in how we will mother.

So what about the “good-enough” idea?   Well, it got its start with Donald Winnicott, a very important psychiatrist from the U.K. in the last century.  He suggested that children have very particular needs in order to develop to their highest capacity. Most mothers supply these needs without a lot of outside intervention.  And once those needs are met, then adding more doesn’t do anything to support development.  It is actually energy spent that could be doing something else, like maybe taking care of yourself, or working at your career, or doing something you love.

How can you switch to being a good enough mommy when you have been programmed since forever to aim for perfection?  You have to reprogram your inner world and then restructure your outer world.

Inner world

  • Check your default thinking.   When you interact with your child and you hear self-critical thoughts come up in your mind, see if you can think “that was probably good enough.”   If that’s impossible, see if you can think “I wonder what good enough would be like?”
  • If you tend to catastrophic thinking (i.e. if I give my baby a bottle all these terrible outcomes could happen), do a reality check. Specifically, how likely are those outcomes?   If one happened, would you manage it?  Another approach to that worst-case thinking is to just notice that you are doing that kind of thinking again.  If it is a pattern for you, you might be able to notice that you are in your pattern.  Once you can see the pattern, you have some traction for fact-checking.  “Oh, this is my scary thought pattern.  I don’t have to believe these thoughts; this is just my pattern.”
  • Practice thinking about what is constitutes “good enough.” Do I have to read three books at bedtime or is one book enough?   Does the baby need to nurse five times a night at six months or is less going to be enough?  Don’t expect to know what enough is…. but at least when you are asking the question you can notice when you are giving too much.
  • Destress your life as much as possible, and focus on enjoying the time with your baby or children. More about that later.

Outer world.

  • Check your context. Are you inundated with other peoples’ views on perfect parenting?  Do you spend time on social media listening to women judge other peoples’ parenting?  Or do you spend time in social groups trying to improve your parenting?   See if the context supports your sense of being okay or if it contributes to a sense that you are not okay at this mothering thing.  It probably won’t be all or nothing:  there may be parts that feel good and supportive, and parts that feel judgy and uncomfortable.  See if you can extricate yourself from judgement.  That includes offering judgment as well as being the recipient.
  • Ask for what you want. In an effort to change the context to support you in being “good enough” instead of perfect, you can ask for support.  Ask for support for your parenting and tell them what that will look like.  For example, “Mom, I’d really like you to tell me that I am doing a great job, and that you know it is sometimes hard, and that you think I’m a good mom.”   You can’t control whether she will do it, but you will have made your preference very clear.
  • Destress your life as much as possible. Yes, you did just read that in the list above, but it is essential for both inner peace and an outer serenity.  More about this later.

 

Getting out from under the burden of perfectionism in motherhood is not easy, but it can be liberating.  You know what your child needs, and you know how you want your family life to be.  You and your spouse get to make those decisions for your family. It can just like the folks next door, or people on Pinterest, but it probably won’t be.  And just as perfect mothering cannot protect your child from real life, it cannot keep you from struggling with the complicated feelings that arise as our children grow, change, and face their lives.  Liberating yourself from the myth of the perfect mommy offers the possibility of deeply enjoying the process of raising children.

Photo credit: Thanks to Katie Huffman, of Looking at Life through Agreeable Hours for the lovely hands on mug picture.

Workshop offering!

Postpartum poster (5)-page-001 I am pretty excited to be able to tell you about a two-workshop series I am offering this spring.  It is for people who work with postpartum moms, or who want to work with that population.  The first day, on Friday 17 April, we’ll focus on the background information needed to effectively work with women who’ve experienced reproductive trauma.  The second workshop is more specifically focused around clinical skills used within therapy sessions, and I hope you’ll bring your experiences to share.

For more information you can click HERE to go to the page on this blog.  There you can download the flyer, and get the registration information.   If you have questions about the content, let me know!  Looking forward to seeing you in Fredericton this spring.

Leslie

Reflection on the 2014 Retreat….

PEI lupinsThe 2014 Summer Bioenergetics Retreat on Prince Edward Island is history now.  It was and it will not come again.  There may be other retreats and they may be wonderful but this particular one will not be repeated.

I was fortunate to be a participant in the original retreats offered by Bethany Doyle and Rosalind McVicar.  I began in 2003 and attended annually through 2012, which was the final year of their program.   The retreat in 2003 was my introduction to bioenergetic therapy, and I was hooked, so much so that I applied for the training program that was starting that fall.   I was fortunate to be accepted and trained with Rosalind and Bethany, as well as with Michael Maley, Louise Frechette, and Chuck Lustfield, the International Trainers who traveled to PEI for us.  And I got to go to the retreat for all those years.

Several members of the initial training group are now Certified Bioenergetic Therapists (CBTs), and we have created a team to continue to offer a summer retreat on PEI.   Last month, we had our second retreat with 20 participants, three therapists (see below for contact information), offerings in creativity, spirituality, and grounding movement,  West African drumming, opportunities to share responsibility and support our community, plus to have massage and body work available.   During the week, I also felt my connection to those who have come before, as Rosalind and Bethany offered their best wishes, and from others in my training group who sent email and phone support.

PEI Aerial view

The heart of the retreat program is bioenergetics:  more exercise to increase body awareness and express strong feeling, group process where we all get to know ourselves and each other, individual therapy where people can work out material that comes up in the heightened context of the group.   The absolute confidentiality of the group makes it a safe place for people to work with what really matters to them, and the chance to work with deep feeling, whatever it is, opens energy for laughter and spontaneous play.    And there was much laughter and much spontaneous play last week!

I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to shape and support the processes of this retreat.  I learned a lot about myself and my connections to others, even as a therapist, and I appreciate the openness and willingness of all of our participants to engage in the process and support one another.

Planning for next year is underway!   Mark your calendar:  July 4-10, 2015, Saturday to Saturday.

 

Therapists:    Laurie Ure,  Gloucester, MA, USA   http://laurieure.com/

Jessie DeBaie, Nova Scotia, CA  http://www.bioenergetictherapy.ca/jessiepage.htm

Leslie Ann Costello, New Brunswick, CA https://frederictonbioenergetics.wordpress.com/

Massage and body work:

Ailsa Keppie, Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA http://www.aninspiredheart.com/

Anticipation of joy? Or joyful anticipation?

PEI

We leave tomorrow for the week-long bioenergetic retreat in Prince Edward Island.  We have spent a year preparing, with more active preparation going on since January, and accelerating toward tomorrow.  The program begins on Friday evening and runs through the following Friday at mid-day, and each year it draws a diverse group that somehow becomes a community during our time together.   And I can imagine that the people who are joining us from all over the world are preparing, packing, and anticipating.

I have been busy with getting ready, looking after details, checking in with the rest of the team, and preparing myself for the work of therapy.  Body psychotherapists use their bodies in their work, so part of my preparation has been to be sure I do my bioenergetic exercises, to be aware of my sleep and nutrition, to work through any internal logjams that may get in my way.

And now, today, I am feeling that lovely anticipatory excitement that comes up when you are heading off for an experience that is new and also likely to be challenging and deepening and supportive and connecting.   The closest comparison I can get is that feeling I had when I was maybe eight years old of expecting Santa to come and bring presents on Christmas Eve.  There was an element of surprise but also the expectation was that things would be pretty good.

I am looking forward to seeing what gifts the next week brings.  Gifts are not always in bright packages:  in fact, the gifts of the retreat often arrive in the form of difficult feelings, ones we prefer to avoid.  I guess maybe the gifts come when people are offered a time and space to be themselves, bring their struggles, challenges, and their joys, express whatever their bodies need to express, and then see what happens.   Part of my anticipation is that I don’t know what will come up;  part of my joy is that I do know that things will happen, people will have opening experiences, and we will become a community.

I wish you all the gifts that freedom of expression can bring.

 

Morning lupins
Morning lupins

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Knowing by slowing…

Body psychotherapy isn’t as odd-sounding as it once was.  People are beginning to understand that the mind and body are not really separate, that there are tissues in the gut, for example, that are much like brain tissue, that emotions are experienced at the body level, and that even those classic “psychological” problems of depression and anxiety are body experiences.   The mind of course is part of them;  the kinds of distorted thinking that we engage in when we are experiencing depression or anxiety can most certainly make things a lot worse.   But I am not sure that the chicken-egg question matters here….I personally don’t care if how you feel affects how you think, or if your thoughts are affecting your emotions.  The point is that things are pretty bad, one way or another, and how can you live more comfortably?

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So it is obvious, I guess, that developing awareness of what you are thinking can make a difference.  You can even change your habits of mind.  You can also change your habits of body, and your habitual ways of responding to situations, and those kinds of changes can be most helpful in trying to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Self awareness is the key to any kind of change.  You can’t change if you don’t know what you are currently doing.    And the key to self awareness is, for many of us, slowing down.  Slowing our everyday experiences so that there is time for self-reflection, slowing our thinking, so that we can become aware of thoughts as they arise and fade away, slowing our behaviour so that we can become responsive rather than in the perpetual knee-jerk of reaction.

What happens when you slow down?   Just take a moment to notice what happens….without judgment, without struggle, with compassion.   For many of us, slowing down generates negative thoughts (“this is unproductive,”  “I”ll never accomplish anything,”  “Does she think I’m not a busy person?  I don’t have time for this nonsense.”).   For some people, the open space of unstructured time feels uncomfortable, as if you should DO something.   For some, a bit of quiet allows us to feel our exhaustion, the fatigue that comes with forever and forever keeping up a front, being frantically productive and chronically stressed.

But without judgment and with compassion, what is it like for you to take time and space to just be?  What do you notice about yourself?   Who are you, really, when you separate yourself from the story inside your head?

Wherever you are is the place to work.  Notice sensation in the body.  Notice what you notice in your environment;  what are you sensitive to in this moment?  In the next moment?   Notice thoughts as they arise and fade out.   Notice which ones tug hardest on your attention.  Notice more sensations in the body;  try moving, and notice what that is like.   Can you feel the desire to move, the intention to move, before you manifest that intention into action?  Where in your body are you aware of that intention?   How do you KNOW, in your body, that you want to move?

Bioenergetics weekend in Massachusetts, November 2013

The time has come, the walrus said….or no, the flyer actually said, the time is NOW to get the Early Bird Discount on the fall weekend program that NANZIBA is sponsoring.

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Keynote speakers are Diana Guest and Gloria Robbins.  Both of these women have vast experience as bioenergetic therapists and I am looking forward to soaking in their wisdom.

The registration information can be found here:  http://www.nanziba.com/

It looks like a good opportunity for bioenergetic clients, for therapists who want to explore a body-based modality, and of course for bioenergetic therapists to explore the experience of bringing hope into the body.

Don’t forget to sign up NOW to get the best rates.

The ethics of “crisis-management” therapy

What kind of support do you need on your path?
What kind of support do you need on your path?

I was thinking about practicing psychotherapy.   Okay, I think about that a lot, and discuss it with my colleagues, and read about it and of course I also spend a bit of time actually practicing.  I recently heard Randy Patterson talking about processes in therapy, and one of his thought-provoking questions was about therapy drop-out.  What proportion of clients leave therapy before attaining their goals?

Apparently most practitioners will estimate about 20-25% but they will be wrong.  The actual, documented typical drop out rate is more like 75-80%.  So that includes the people who come once and don’t like you or the process, and also the people who work hard in therapy, start to feel better, but leave before actually accomplishing their goals.

I was just like the rest of the herd: roughly estimated that about 20 percent of people who come to therapy drop out.  Upon reflection, I can see that the drop-out rate is a lot higher.   Many people in therapy accomplish a lot even though they may not meet their goals, such as to no longer be depressed, or to get through a difficult situation.    So even without meeting a goal, it isn’t therapy wasted.   In fact, even for people who only come once or twice,  the time, money, and energy are likely not  wasted.  When the client leaves, it may be that  the process wasn’t meeting some need at that particular time, or that competing needs pushed therapy out.  And in reality, the client’s goals might never actually be discussed, or defined.   So the entire process, therapy, outcomes, termination, all of that might be very murky for both client and therapist.

But all that talk is  just prelude to my title thought.   People do leave therapy in various ways;   leave angry, leave silently, leave with congratulations and great hurrahs for accomplishments    They also return, and they return in various ways.   If they leave in a way that feels okay to them, it makes it easier to return.   And the other circumstance that makes a return to therapy easier is extreme distress.

It is not uncommon for clients to come to therapy in distress, get some relief, and, just as the therapist thinks it is time to really begin the actual THERAPY, the client leaves.  Well, she got what she came for, which was relief.   The problem is that if the underlying behaviour or thought pattern hasn’t changed, or maybe even hasn’t come into her awareness, she’ll likely be in a very similar distress again.   So she returns to therapy and has a few sessions;  feels quite a lot better, either due to the intervention, or to a change in external circumstances, or to that old placebo, time.   So she leaves again…..only to return another time.  Lasting change hasn’t happened;   there has been, perhaps, a series of band-aids, or (better image) a step-wise movement that may be more lateral than progressive.

Is it okay to keep using band-aids when therapy might actually generate some real change ?   Who makes that call?   What does the ethical therapist do with this?

Day breaks, the crisis abates...
Day breaks, the crisis abates…

I don’t have an answer.  Part of me thinks that it is disingenuous to just keep on with supportive counseling when I believe that a deeper, more focused type of work will be helpful in the long term.  But another part of me acknowledges that  for many people, symptom relief is a good thing and is sufficient.  So whose goals are important here?  It doesn’t make sense that my goals for your therapy should supersede YOUR goals for your therapy.  But you also have less experience with therapy than I do, and you might not know what is possible.

Reflection tells me that I probably have to be honest with clients and tell them how I see it….that there is hope beyond just immediate relief from distress…but that the immediate gratification may not be there.   Longer term therapies, like bioenergetic analysis which helps to restructure personality, or trauma treatments which heals through restructuring of distorted memories, can have outcomes that make a huge difference to the person.  The path to those outcomes isn’t a smooth one, though, and often the courage it requires to take that path is hard to come by.  So I can understand why someone might decide to use counseling as a symptom relief measure.

So ….. whose agenda, whose goals?  Is feeling better a good enough goal for therapy?   or do we have a better chance of getting change when we set goals that are more clearly defined??

These are some of the things I ponder.  If I don’t find an answer, I usually look for chocolate.   Which, in its way, performs the same soothing and comforting role as supportive counseling.  Chocolate for everyone!   Then back to pondering the deep thoughts.

The skills of depression

I have found a lovely resource, a book about depression that is unlike other books about depression.  It is called Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and What Medication Can’t Give You.  Doesn’t that title grab you?  The author is Richard O’Connor, who is a therapist but more importantly, is a person who has depression.

Undoing depression

So what’s so lovely about this book?  Well, first off, he discussed the skills of depression…the particular abilities that being depressed seems to hone in people.  For example, depressed people are good at isolating, or separating feeling from experience, so that we have experiences but we don’t have the emotion you might expect to go with it.   Depressed people are skillful at procrastination:  it keeps us from, as the author says, “ever having to put your best self on the line,” because we always run out of time. (Oh, boy, can I ever relate to that!   Waiting until the last minute meant I never really knew if I would actually get through graduate school).    Depressed people are skillful at negative self-talk, at pessimism, at setting impossible goals or having no goals and lots of guilt.  Depressed people are good at setting themselves up to make sure that a negative view of the world is supported:  that is, undermining ourselves…perhaps before we can be undermined by others.  There are more skills but you probably get the picture.

The great thing about this approach is that skills are something that are learned.  They are not innate characteristics;  they are not who we are.    They are coping methods that we developed to manage our depression. So we had a traumatic childhood, or we were bullied in the workplace, or a parent died or left the family.  Or we have family members with depression, and we both inherited their predispositions and watched and learned from depressed behaviour.    Whatever the story that generated our depression,  we have used these methods to cope.  But they are skills….learned and therefore un-learnable.   If we learned these skills, we can learn other skills.

Aha!  so my tendency to procrastinate and put my job at risk, and isolate myself and put my relationships at risk, and to engage in pessimistic and negative thinking and put my own safety at risk…those are skills I have learned to cope with depression.   They are not character flaws.  They are not immutable parts of my self.  They are SKILLS.

Somehow, that is a tremendously hopeful message.

One of the keys to undoing,  according to O`Connor (and a lot of other people, including researchers) is to cultivate mindfulness.   Mindfulness is practically a buzzword these days;  everyone is being mindful of something, somehow.  But the mindfulness that seems to be particularly useful in retraining people who are skilled in depression is of a particular type.  Mindfulness is “spending time paying attention in a particular way:  on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,”   according to Jon Kabat-Zinn.  According to O`Connor, it is about  “deliberately trying to attain a new attitude toward your own thoughts, feelings, and everyday experience, a viewing of oneself with compassionate curiosity.”  This practice is embodied by meditation, the content of which is one’s own experience in the moment.

peaceful

The ability to see oneself, to experience one`s moment by moment being, complete with thoughts, emotions, images, and body sensations, is to free oneself from the anchors of the past and the anxieties of the future.  For a few minutes every day, you can be as free as possible from all of those things that otherwise feel like constraints.   During mindfulness practice, we can learn to defuse from our thinking, those beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world that limit us.   We can be just as we are and see what that is like.

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This kind of practice enables a freedom in the world, as well as on the meditation cushion.   I am thinking that perhaps that`s part of O’Connor’s message.   When I create some  space away from the skills of depression, I am aware of being able to make choices in how I will be, how I will respond, how I will live in the world.   And that is a place from which skills for the full experience of living can develop.

People-Holding-Hands

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