For when you get punched in the face

 Our culture is very focused on thinking, talking, reasoning - these are great human strengths.  And yet, they are not our strongest ways of being. What our culture has tried to forget is that we are mostly animals, mammals, embodied beings that have exceptional capabilities but still are beholden to our biology in many, many ways.  I have learned a hard lesson (again and again) since my baby was born. I cannot, no matter how much I try, I cannot use just my brain to parent. So many of us parents feel like failures on the regular, none of us are alone in that (if that idea gives any solace…) and I am no exception, even when I felt so well prepared with my masters degree and my therapy and my experience.  I am still, in fact, also a mammal.


All my learning and practice and thinking and reasoning could not have prepared me for the completely emotional and embodied experience of raising a child.  

This is not news to anyone who has been in the trenches, but did you know that your sweet, snuggly, soft cooing baby will eventually grow into a walking, talking toddler who one day, much to your surprise, will, with all her force and might, slap you directly in the face? I’m not speaking figuratively.  This tiny person will actually rear back with her little hand and slap you right in the face so hard your eyes will water.  This child you have yearned for, stayed up all night for, fed, clothed, kissed, and generally loved with every inch of your being.  Oh yeah, her? She’ll punch you in the face. And guess what?? You don’t get to hit her back!! She’s tiny and her brain is underdeveloped, remember?  She’s trying a thing and you get to be the guinea pig. Yippee. Can we, as essentially animals with the ability to talk, stay calm in this moment? Maybe yes, maybe no.  What about the tenth time she punches you in the face? Ha! If you stay perfectly calm and loving in that moment then you are a better person than I. But still, violence is not the answer (sorry), so what is a bordering-on-mental-breakdown parent to do? The answer is in the body.  Hers, and yours.

A bottom up approach to parenting means we consider brain development in addressing parenting and behavior issues.  We consider that both children and adults struggle with reasoning and empathy when upset, and small children struggle with reasoning and empathy simply as a condition of their age/development.  When we look at the brain for answers, we learn that the strongest parts of a small child’s brain are impulsive and survival focused - and that most of their communication comes from their bodies because their language just isn’t there yet.  When children behave in ways that we feel are inappropriate, the answer is usually in their bodies. What do their bodies need? Do they need comfort? Food? Exercise? Rest? For my little Pacquiao-wannabe extra exercise has been life saving.  

I also have to think about what my body needs.  Because when I get hit in the face my body wants to explode. I try to do preventative care with some yoga or stretching whenever I can.  I try to make myself go to bed even though I sometimes want to stay up and enjoy my alone time just a little bit longer. And when I get hit in the face? I need to move.  Go outside. Challenge my toddler to a race. We both need to expend energy in that moment. I used to try to contain the aggression, both hers and mine; that was futile. The energy is there, like it or not.  Our mammalian impulses are there. But, when we are at our best, we can use our smart brains to focus that energy. For me, I need a plan and lots of support in order to be my best self.

I was shocked to discover that I didn’t have complete control over my body.  Knowing the right things to do and actually doing them when you are tired, lonely, and getting punched in the face are two very different things.  I yelled. I stomped around. I took my wrap off in a huff and threw it. I slammed doors. I plunked my kid less than delicately on the bed when I had had enough already! I’m glad it wasn’t worse, but it could have been.

I regret so much. 

And also, I’m trying to forgive myself. Every new stage calls for a regrouping process.  My self - forgiveness comes from two places: one, friends who nod knowingly when I describe my adult sized tantrums, and two, understanding that aggression is inside every single one of us and only when we get what our bodies need, can we rise above it.

Power and motherhood

My daughter is asleep lying next to me in the bed as I reflect on the conversation I had with my therapist earlier today.  I can hear my baby’s steady breath, and the warmth of her pressed into my side. My therapist and I spoke about a sense of empowerment I experienced when I  became her mother. After my labor and delivery I felt like a badass. Holy hell, look what my body can do! I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to do it somehow, but I did. I was in pain, I was overwhelmed...but my body and soul were so much stronger than I had ever realized.  After the initial delivery high wore off, though, my inner critic crept in and took over. Perfectionism ate away at my fresh sense of power as a new mother.

Thankfully, my therapist reminded me that my power was still there, just forgotten.  These were the aspects of motherhood we they feel familiar?

A crisp clarity on what is important and what isn’t. Authority on, not over, but on the subject of my child.  Wisdom from knowing someone as well, maybe better than, you know yourself. Strength from sacrifice, from surviving things you didn’t think you’d survive.  Suddenly and overwhelmingly knowing why you are here and feeling more purpose, more will to live, than you ever imagined. Understanding what it means to really show up for someone, someone utterly vulnerable. Individuation...knowing where your energy needs to go, where it can’t go, and where you won’t let it go anymore, because it is limited and precious.  Meeting the person (or people) you would go to hell and back for. Feeling in your bones that you would actually do it. Being the keystone of another person’s universe, and assuming that role with humanity and humility. It gives me chills. This motherhood thing. The jaw-dropping power of a woman who knows her worth. (A woman’s worth is NOT rested solely in motherhood - it is one of many life stages where women can be reminded of who they are, and motherhood can be found in many many places and forms. This is simply what has arisen for me in my journey.)

This transformation is one of unfathomable power - of realizing what you can do, what stuff you are made of, what you can overcome.  Mothers are powerful. Do you feel it? The iron at your core that can be liquid hot or solid and unflinching - the breathtaking beauty of incredible power expressed in hugs and kisses, righting wrongs, boosting up, and launching into life - gently, firmly, warmly.  You are powerful. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

This power is also scary.  You have the power to shape someone else’s life.  To teach them how and who to be. Never before have I felt so afraid of my power.  What if I hurt her? Push her to something that isn’t her truth? Crush her spirit? I could, you know.  We’ve all had mothers of some sort - we know the power they’ve had over us. It has become painfully clear how necessary my own health is - physically, emotionally, mentally, will impact her.  This is the responsibility of power.

Will you always feel the beauty and strength of your power?  No. Or at least I don’t. But it is still there just the same, waiting to be embraced once again. Will you always remember the responsibility of your power?  No. Or at least I don’t. But it is still there just the same, waiting to be embraced once again.


My eyes flutter open 

It is cool, dark, still

What woke me? 

The barest of morning light outlines the oaks in the window

She stirs

She stirs again


She is on hands and knees

Covers the distance between us 

Tumbles into the soft of my shoulder

Her small, smooth hand lands on my cheek

She is still once more

I close my eyes, drowsy

Feel the rhythmic rise and fall of my stomach

And am dreaming again


This morning my daughter went to play in the rain and she slipped and fell.  I heard it. My stomach dropped with a sickening heaviness and my body sprung into action as I rounded the corner to set eyes on her, then ran barefoot in my nightgown out to scoop her up. She cried hard, we were covered in mud.  I walked the house, holding her tight and cooing in her ear, all the while remembering a story my mother told me about watching my brother fall and hit his head as a toddler. She said in that moment, her first thought was “I don’t know if I can survive loving someone this much”.  I felt those words deep, deep in the cavern of my stomach as I walked and walked and walked. Gratefully, my girl recovered after a good cry and returned to her usual funny self. She recovered much more quickly than I did, as a matter of fact. And so I’m left today thinking about mothers - mothers and courage.

Motherhood takes an infinite amount of courage. And even as I write this piece I know for certain I will not do the courage exhibited by mothers around the world full justice.  

To really do it, to really get in there and love your children with your whole heart, to step out of the center of your universe so you can share space with them, to let them change you.  To protect them and fight for them. To launch them into the world.

To change your focus, change your family, change your purpose, to change your whole life. It all takes courage.

We know the doubt.  The anxiety. The midnight wondering and the 5am exhaustion. And I see mothers showing up everyday anyway.  Laughing, hugging, holding, guiding, encouraging, soothing...all the things that make children feel the safety and specialness of this life.

Oh mothers, your courage (and mine) is staggering.

It is true of course that some days we fair better than others.  Some days I am not all that brave. I’m fearful and reactive. Or it’s a day I just need to rest and not have so much dang courage.  I’m learning to be ok with all the days.

Because our less than courageous days don’t negate all of the moments in which fear raised its head and we chose courage instead.  

Last month I wrote about grief.  This month I write about courage, because you know what?  It’s all the same. It’s all love in action. Loving takes courage and grieving means there is courage AND love.

So just know, mommas, when I look at you I see a warrior, an Amazon, an everyday average woman who with her everyday average love shows more courage than I ever thought possible, and I am in awe.  

The Grief of Motherhood

I spent at least a decade trying to find my way in my career, as an individual.  This isn’t a long stretch of time in the grand scheme of things, but when you are only in your 30s, this is a third of your life.  It feels big. Starting in high school I began making choices that I felt reflected who I was - I was beginning to develop a clearer sense of who I wanted to be in the world.  I took certain classes, read certain things, and made some decisions that set me on a path after graduation. I studied education, and became a teacher. I liked some of it, didn’t like some of it.  So I tweaked here and there, and added more steps to my path. As my twenties unfolded I did my best to move forward, make choices, listen to my gut, adjust, and move forward again. Through relationships, places, careers, jobs within careers - choose, reflect, adjust, choose.  By the time I was 30 I had married and had a career that felt like the right fit, better than that, I had a specific niche within my career that felt like a very good fit. I was a marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma informed equine assisted psychotherapy.  When I say I found a specific niche, I am not exaggerating.  It took blood, sweat, tears and lots of time to find this career.

Then I had my baby.

That whole identity I had so lovingly, painstakingly crafted has been obliterated. And I am angry.  You know why? Because I LOVE my work. I love it. It makes my heart soar and eyes light up while also making me feel grounded and centered and authentic and like I am contributing in a way I never knew possible.  But you know what else? I love my kid more.  This girl, this one who has turned me inside out and upside down, gives me tunnel vision.  I would do just about anything to give her what she needs. So now who the fork am I, and what does this person think, care about, do??

I am a mother, yes.  That truth has hit me square between the eyes like a Mack truck.  And I am a therapist. But figuring out how to be both has my head spinning.  I want to be a stay at home mother, being with my daughter in all her ups and downs. AND I want to work, to use my brain, talk with like minded adults, and contribute to the community. But you can’t be a half mother.  And you can’t be a half therapist. Both require so much from a person - body, mind, soul - “phoning it in” doesn’t really cut it.

In the beginning, it was easy to choose, those first couple of months at home once she arrived were bliss.  Lots of nursing, napping, and getting to know each other. I didn’t need anything else. But by four months I started to hit a wall.  Motherhood can be so isolating. Alone. In my house. With a needy (rightly so, but needy nonetheless) baby. It was getting a little bleak.  I started back to work part-time, thinking some work and lots of baby was going to be a great balance. But part-time work and full-time ‘momming’ isn’t a silver bullet either.  It’s sort of a confusing dance in which you are constantly switching between two partners who dance quite differently, while desperately wanting to give your full attention to both.  

I am lucky.  I get to choose.  And yet, I don’t get to choose.  None of us do. Whether you are a stay at home mom or a full time working mom or something in between, whether you chose it or you have to do it so your family can get what they need.  We don’t really get to choose, because no matter what we are doing, we have left behind who we were before and we have become something different. There are still pieces of who we were before, of course.  But before my baby I was a therapist, and after my baby I can still be a therapist, but I will be a therapist-mom. A mom-therapist. A strange hybrid that is frequently feeling the loss of what isn’t being chosen in this moment.  What I never heard talked about before I had my baby was that being a mother is full of grieving - even when your child is healthy and things are going well. You still grieve. You grieve the losses of your body, your identity, your time, your freedom, your previous life.  You grieve all the moments in which you have to choose between you and your baby. You grieve every mistake, every tear, every flash of anger. You grieve.

This new life is overflowing with joy, and also, grief - they both exist simultaneously.  It is significantly more complex than it was before, and like an infant, I am crawling along learning how to be, all over again.  There will never be a perfect answer, life isn’t like that really. And as a parent in this day and age, I think it’s even more clear that life doesn’t have simple answers.  As an adult, we are often required to choose. To move forward we look at our options, and we choose. It is the way things are. That doesn’t mean we don’t get to grieve what doesn’t work out, what doesn’t get chosen though. Grief happens not in the rational brain, but in the lower regions of relationship, love, memory, emotion - and so we feel it whether we “should” or not.  

As mothers, we are given ample room for the joy, but are we given, are we taking, the room we need for grief?

Bad Days

Today was a bad day. Maybe one of our worst. Molars coming in. Autonomy to be asserted. My need to control, be listened to, be cooperated with. It all came to a head today. Multiple meltdowns, terrible sleep, and angry outbursts were had on all sides. The whole day all I wanted was for her to give me some room, a moment to collect myself, to not need so much from me. To please just do what I ask, to not fight every request, to not push every boundary...please, just for a few moments. When my husband got home I felt a wave of relief, only to realize that it’s not actually over, this day, because even with him here in all his joviality, love, and engaging play, she still wants me. She wants to be held by me, she wants to push me away. Back and forth. Back and forth. Over and over. Push. Pull. Push.  Pull.  It’s maddening. Hair tearing, crying in the shower, maddening. 

But now she is asleep and all I feel is grief.  Grief for a lost day I’ll never get back. Grief for the moments when she felt out of control and I made it worse. Grief for her tears. I want a do-over. And I know tomorrow I will get one, sort of, but I also know that I’m running out of days when she is this small. When she relies on me so heavily. When I am excruciatingly responsible for her well being.  That is the good news and the bad.  It won’t always be like this, and I am running out of time.

So, I have a good cry. I try to get some sleep. And I attempt to have some self-compassion, because the therapist part of me knows I need it if I’m going to move forward.  So I remember the stuff that is easy to forget on a “bad day”.  Stuff like, we have many more good days than bad. That she is a confident, loving, and funny girl - which came from somewhere. That I love her so dearly I can hardly breathe. That her daddy feels the same way, and she knows. It all matters.  It is enough.

My anger is gone, for now. I remind myself that every bad day helps me practice doing my best even when it feels impossible. I can see that I am getting better at responding to my new toddler with warmth and calm and joy, little by little. I’m slowly but surely understanding who she is and what she needs in this new stage.  I will make mistakes again. Probably tomorrow. But I hope I am modeling something of value for her - that people have big feelings and it’s not the end of the world, that there are times to apologize and times to forgive, that when we wrong someone we work to repair, that anger and love are not mutually exclusive, that relationships and the humans in them are complicated and messy and we all do the best we can. She’s not old enough yet to really be conscious of all this, but she is learning from my example all the same.  

We all do the best we can.  Mamas.  Toddlers.  All of us.  We have good days and not so good days, we cry and we laugh, we apologize and we forgive. Love isn’t either or, it’s both and.

Entering the mess

It’s pretty common knowledge that having children is messy - they are noisy, often dirty, and care little for rules of decorum.  However, what I failed to realize before I had my daughter is how messy kids make our lives, emotionally.

Before my child arrived on the scene, I believed myself to be an extraordinarily patient, self-aware guide for others who were emotionally messy.  Ha. Boy has my ego taken a big hit over the last 15 months.

But you know what good support (through friends and professional help) has helped me to (begin to) realize?  I’m not a fallen angel - broken, failed, shamed.

I’m simply a person.

The brilliant and inspiring poet Mary Oliver passed away not long ago.  Everywhere I look I see her phrase, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I love this question. This idea. But what I didn’t really internalize until this very moment that I sat down to write about messiness is that she said “WILD and precious”.  Not “orderly and precious”. Not “uncomplicated and precious”. She said WILD. Do you know I have never considered that part of her question before? I’ve thought about the fact that my life is precious, that I get only one....but that it is wild??  Ick. That sounds very messy. No thank you.

Until I became a parent, I was pretty able to keep that wild part under wraps.  If you read my previous post about crossing my desert, you know I am simply no longer able to hide behind my well composed facade of planning and order and the sweet relief of thoughts thoughts thoughts.  Feelings were something I only expressed after I’d thought about them loooong and hard - so that then they could be presented in a logical and controlled fashion, thus satisfying the need to be heard without ever having to lose control.  Genius! Effective! Then, this small person I invited into my life, nay, insisted on with much trying and laboring, totally upended me.

In shorthand, we have entered the toddler years.  Let me paint a picture for you. I, in all my patient wisdom and calm connection, ask my lovely toddler to “please not touch the water in the toilet bowl”.  And she responds with “oh yes mommy, I’ll just go play outside instead, thank you for reminding me not to play in the toilet.” And scene.

Or, if you live in the real world you know what really happens is my daughter knows I don’t like her touching the toilet water, so she walks backwards toward the toilet like I can’t tell that she is still in fact heading toward the toilet despite her very subtle backwards walk, all the while giggling and waiting to see what I do.  What I do is (in all my patient wisdom and calm connection) say “please don’t touch the toilet, my love, it is dirty and not good for you”. And then she laughs in my face and runs gleefully to the toilet to splash. And then I repeat myself but louder while also moving closer and she laughs and so I say “honey, no” while moving closer and she laughs and splashes harder and I stand near her and firmly say “no” and she practically climbs into the toilet bowl to splash and then I lose my ever loving mind and turn into the 3 headed monster who doubles in size and breathes fire.

Excellent.  That went well.

When that happens what I want to do is go back to my books, my training, and think.  And I do. But the trouble is I want to stay. Can I please stay in the black and white certainty of science-backed parenting books and training certifications and all the lovely things I KNOW???  But I can’t stay there, no matter how cozy and comforting it is. Because my daughter isn’t in those books. She’s out here being messy too, and asking me to come to her. To help her.

So, into the mess I must go - because heaven knows I won’t leave her alone with her mess simply so I don’t have to deal with mine.  Stepping into her mess ignites all the messiness within me. I could avoid it, I could let it run the show, or I can come to terms with it.  Those are my options. I choose coming to terms with it.

Hello my name is Kate and I.  Am. Messy.

But, don’t let me fool you.  I will vacillate between all three options, regularly.  I’m messy, remember?

My work as I see it is to step into the wild, the mess, both mine and hers - not in an effort to tame it (i.e. control it) but in an effort to learn from it. To learn to ride the waves with some grace, together.  Because here is the scary truth of it all...accepting myself and all the mess that comes with me is how she learns to do the same, for herself. I cannot stand on the sidelines and teach her how to embrace her one wild and precious life, her fully human life - she will learn most from what I do, not from what I say.

So, into the mess I go.

My Desert

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”

  -Joseph Campbell (and my friend, Lauren)

Imagine a desert.  

A giant sea of sand stretching seemingly forever in every direction with only the expansive white-blue sky and burning sun for company.  Empty dunes and sky.  The only sound is the foreboding high-pitched hum of the heat.  This is where I am right now.  Do you see me?


The image can seem quite bleak.  One might wonder, what have I done to deserve this desert, to be stuck here?  What torture and suffering is this? But, the truth may surprise you.  I’ve committed no great sin.  I (naively) volunteered for this desert, and even now that I see it, now that I am here, I don’t want to be rescued.  I’m terrified, I’m exhausted, and I want to stay. It’s mine, and it means something to me.

Because this desert - this is where I become a mother.  

I don’t think I fully understood this before, but motherhood is a journey that takes a lifetime, or so it seems from my current vantage.  And more specifically, it is a hero’s journey that will last me a lifetime. I am only at the beginning of mine, my daughter has recently celebrated her first birthday - but my sense is once you begin being a mother you never stop being a mother, it just evolves.

A mentor of mine taught me about the hero’s journey, and in doing so he pointed something out to me that makes perfect sense considering most cultural norms.  Often, women don’t realize that they are on a hero’s journey and that they are, in fact, the heroes of their own story.  We are all heroes on a hero’s journey.  What happens inside of you when I say you are a hero in your story?  Does it resonate, or do you reject it like I did? To clarify, I don’t mean a hero like in the movies - someone who is invincible and dashingly handsome, who saves the day and gets accolades and attention. I mean the hero from our ancient stories.  The one who is utterly human, heavily flawed - who walks a path that is treacherous and long.  They are a hero because they know it is hard, and yet they keep going because it means something.  They try to be the best versions of themselves every step of the way, they fail repeatedly, but they get back up (or let someone help them back up) and they continue on.  THIS is a hero.  This is the journey of motherhood, isn’t it? It’s many different journeys, I speak about moms because that is what I know - but if this imagery resonates with you, be you mother, father, guardian, or person - then you belong here.  I only say mother because this is what I know.

Motherhood, for me, is unfolding as a journey that for now feels like a march across an endless desert. Just me, my daughter, and the horizon. (Do I have a partner?  Yes, an incredible one.  But this isn’t the journey of co-parenting or of family. ) This is my journey of being shattered and put back together again, of being molded.  Truly, of being forged in the fire. This desert is where I shed all that I thought I was, because my daughter won’t let me hide, and I can’t bear the weight of it anymore anyway.  All the trappings of who I tried to be - the right kind of woman in this world - the right daughter, the right friend, the right wife - and even, the “right” parent.  I drop it because perfect is no longer even a remote possibility, my mask has been torn off. I’ve been cracked open and my daughter has shined a spotlight on my most tender insides. 

So, this where I drop it all.

I drop it, I pick up my daughter, and we walk.  

It’s hot, dry, and we are alone.  Sometimes an ally appears and carries her for me for a while, and the break is a relief.  Someone brings me a sip of water, or wipes my brow, and it’s a blessing.  But, she always comes back to my arms.  I will never truly be ‘done’.  This knowledge makes the desert seem very big, and very lonely (even with a partner).  It would be easy to fall to my knees in this desert, set her down, and weep.  And sometimes I do.  But then, I get back up, or ask someone to pick me up, and we continue on.  Because ultimately, as the sun sets on each day - we belong to each other.  She is me and I am her. And not in the way that she is a little Kate destined to carry on my legacy; she is, very clearly already, herself.  But in that she is OF me.  She was built, piece by piece, of me.  And I feel that in my bones when I look at her.  And it’s why I cross this desert.  And it’s why I don’t want to be saved from it - no matter how thirsty, how burned.  I want help, I want support, I lean heavily on my guides - but I don’t want to be rescued.  I cross it without a doubt in my mind that it’s where I belong.  Today, I must carry her across, and then one day perhaps I’ll walk alongside her, and then one day I’ll follow along behind.  But it will be she, and it will be me - step by step.  She doesn’t know that I am of her as well.  That without even trying, she is building me, piece by piece. Every moment she and I are together I feel my choices unfold before me - she unknowingly presents me with my options for the next step.  And I choose.  Sometimes from my heart - with strength, warmth, and love; sometimes from my shadow - with fear and anger.   And then we take the next step.  

My greatest fear and greatest hope is in HOW I cross this desert.  I will crawl, and scramble, and fall.  Up each dune and down the other side.  My dream is that I cross this desert in a way that makes me proud of myself, that grows my vulnerabilities into strengths, that I find self-compassion, and that she arrives on the other side - whole.  My greatest fear is that I won’t, and that she won’t.

It has become astonishingly clear to me.  This is my life’s work.  To cross my desert in a way that leaves me proud of myself.  And to carry her, walk beside her, and then one day follow her in her deserts so she knows she is never alone.  It’s not just about raising a happy kid, though that’s part of it.  It’s about becoming the kind of person that can raise a human who feels she is whole. It’s a lofty goal, and perfection isn’t an option, but in the striving is where I hope to be found.  If you ever discover me having lost my way, you have my permission to hand me my compass and send me back out there. I am flawed, my hero’s journey is only beginning and the way forward isn’t clear, but, I am the hero of my story.  I get to be brave and valiant, and be struck down, and rise again.  As do you.

Is Pressure Always a Bad Thing?

In this blog post for Natural Lifemanship, I explore the idea of "pressure".  Often used in a negative way, "pressure" can bring to mind the idea of stress or coercion.  In NL we use it as neither a good nor bad thing - it simply is a fact of life and relationships.  The thing that makes it a positive or negative thing for relationships is whether that pressure is appropriate or not.  Appropriate pressure is very different from inappropriate pressure (i.e. too much or too little) and YES there is a thing as too little pressure in a relationship!

Read on...

Learning About Attachment Trauma...From My Dog?

In this blog for Natural Lifemanship, I share the story of my dog, Olive.  A stray with clear attachment trauma, who has taught me so much about what trauma does to a developing brain - human, canine, or otherwise.  We humans often believe we are separate from the animals around us, I hope this story helps you feel more connected to the fact that we are just animals too, and share so much with the others around us.


What I Learned From My Dog With Attachment Trauma


Deification is Still Objectification

In this blog I wrote for Natural Lifemanship, I explore the two major camps of Equine Therapy we see in the field today (of course, not everyone falls into these two groups).  In the equine healing professions it seems horses are treated as either tools for our benefit, or as other-worldly, all-knowing higher beings.  What does this do to the therapy to believe either of these things?  How is our work impacted, how are our clients impacted?  It's a topic worth exploring for anyone going into the field.  In Natural Lifemanship, we strive for a middle ground where a hierarchy is unnecessary - we are creatures with wants and needs, as are they, and a mutually beneficial relationship is possible if we really try.

Enjoy - and please leave a comment if you feel inclined!

Deification is Still Objectification

The Wild Horse Sanctuary

This May I had the privilege of joining Natural Lifemanship at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, California - truly a once in a lifetime experience!!!  For those of you who don't know, Natural Lifemanship offers a handful of trainings for therapists, horse professionals, and interested others to learn about how the brain, the body, and relationship all come together to make our lives better.  We have an introductory training called the Fundamentals, and then a secondary training called the Intensive.  The Intensive training is a 3-day small group experience in which participants get to choose an unhandled or rescued horse with whom to work on relationship building for the duration of the weekend.  It is a deeply personal and profound experience, as well as a wealth of learning for professionals seeking to incorporate horses into their therapeutic work.  The intention is for both the humans and the horses to connect and grow in a positive way through their interactions through the weekend.  Natural Lifemanship feels strongly about equine work being mutually beneficial for both human and horse.

The group hanging out at our campsite at The Wild Horse Sanctuary

The group hanging out at our campsite at The Wild Horse Sanctuary

This time, we took the Intensive one step further - in partnering with the Wild Horse Sanctuary in California, we were able to work with 5 young mustangs who had had little to no contact with humans up to that point - and help them prepare for adoption.  The situation for mustangs in the USA is a controversial and emotional topic - currently, there are more mustangs in holding pens around the US than there are free roaming on federal land.  And unfortunately, the numbers of mustangs on federal land is unsustainable still.  If left to their own devices, many mustangs would die of starvation - however, the current solution of rounding up mustangs (often by traumatic helicopter chases) and placing them in holding pens until they are adopted is also unsustainable.  One of the major issues facing these mustangs in holding pens is that they are wild and few people are equipped to house, handle, and train a wild horse - so, many spend years, if not their entire lives in small spaces as a means to keep them from starving on federal land.

A mustang mare and her foal.  The foal thought we were super interesting..approaching and retreating over and over while we were near.  The mustangs at the Sanctuary are familiar with humans - they are fed when resources are low - but many don't ever make contact with people.  They are left largely to their own devices.

A mustang mare and her foal.  The foal thought we were super interesting..approaching and retreating over and over while we were near.  The mustangs at the Sanctuary are familiar with humans - they are fed when resources are low - but many don't ever make contact with people.  They are left largely to their own devices.

Natural Lifemanship has roots in the mustang herds of the West - it is in working to gentle mustangs that founder Tim Jobe developed much of his perspective on horse psychology and behavior that serves as part of the foundation for Natural Lifemanship.  The truth is, there are quite a few differences between wild mustangs and domesticated horses - witnessing wild mustangs and experiencing the gentling process with them brought to light much of the disparities between natural horse behavior and what we see in most domesticated horses today, offering rare insight into the workings of the horse brain, especially when survival is at stake.  Because of Tim's work with mustangs, and the mustang's place in the hearts of those who work with NL - we were so honored to get to spend time at the Wild Horse Sanctuary.  Our Intensive took place in the same way it usually does - 8 participants matched with 4 mustangs to spend 3 days building a relationship.  The goal is always mutually beneficial connection in any work we do.  The goal for the training was to provide participants with an opportunity to experience themselves in a new and challenging situation, to learn to attune closely to horse communication, to practice calm and predictable relating, and to feel the process of relationship building that a client might feel in their one equine therapy session.  

Me walking with Raven - both of us calm, relaxed, and engaged with each other.

Me walking with Raven - both of us calm, relaxed, and engaged with each other.

The training was a huge success - the participants were engaged, thoughtful, open and vulnerable - and therefore they were able to make great strides in only 3 days.  Mustangs that couldn't relax with humans in their vicinity on the morning of day one were seeking out touch and curiously investigating their human counterparts by the end of day 3.  The participants had to find their most quiet, calm, and sensitive ways of communicating while acknowledging how their own fears, patterns, and blind spots were obstacles to relationship.  As a therapist and trainer, it is a great privilege to guide people through this process - it is one of my most favorite aspects of my work.  It also doesn't hurt that we get to witness young mustangs experiencing relationship with humans, many for the first time, and we get to be a part of them becoming calmer and happier in our presence - a skill that will support them in having long, healthy lives with humans.  And since we live in a world where horses (wild or not) intersect with humans, and often rely on them for safety and security - co-existing peacefully is an essential skill we are thrilled to be a part of building with them.

A participant and her mustang named Owen - who on Day 1 couldn't tolerate people being in his vicinity.

A participant and her mustang named Owen - who on Day 1 couldn't tolerate people being in his vicinity.

After we had wrapped up the training on day one, we were offered a guided walk into the back pasture of the sanctuary to look for some of the wild herds.  We were fortunate to find one after about a half hour of walking.  We got to visit with Lightning and his mares and foals - some of whom were curious and eager for small interactions.  Lightning kept a close eye on all of us, and let us know when he felt we were too close - a message delivered clearly and with impressive calm authority.  The presence of these (mostly) wild mustangs at the Sanctuary is difficult to describe.  These horses are built to capably move through rough terrain - with stout legs and strong hooves. 

Lightning, the palomino stallion up front, with some of his band behind him.

Lightning, the palomino stallion up front, with some of his band behind him.

The experience at The Wild Horse Sanctuary is one I won't soon forget - and the  struggles of the American Mustang is often on my mind.  If you are interested in learning more, or are wondering how to help, I have listed some sites below that offer some information.  Special thanks to Windows to My Soul for their support for our training!! For more information on joining a Natural Lifemanship training (or joining us next year at The Wild Horse Sanctuary!) - please go to our trainings page.

PS - I am not an expert in mustangs, just sharing my experience - I hope to learn much, much more as life goes on, perhaps even gentling one of my own someday.  I would LOVE to hear about your experiences with mustangs - please feel free to share pictures and stories!

What does an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Session Even LOOK Like?

In the last few years, I have fallen in love with a form of therapy called Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, or EAP for short.  It's a bit of a fringe therapy, but it is growing exponentially as we learn more and more about its benefits.  However, since it is fairly "fringe", many people haven't a clue what it actually means to do this work, or to be a client of EAP.  So, here is my attempt at explaining it.  Keep in mind, there are many ways to do this work - this is my experience.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is, simply put, a psychotherapy session that equines.  A therapist, a horse professional (sometimes they are one and the same), and one or more horses come together to support a client in therapeutic growth - mentally and emotionally.  This work can have physiological benefits, but that is only the goal as it relates to mental/emotional health (like a release in muscle tension due to decrease in anxiety).  So goals are created much as they would be in typical office therapy - for example, a goal could be "decrease symptoms of anxiety", or "increase ability to recognize and manage emotions as they arise".

EAP is often confused with Hippotherapy or Therapeutic Riding - which is riding to improve physiological and mental development in those with injuries or mental/physical disabilities - clients with brain injuries, birth defects, autism spectrum, etc can benefit greatly from Hippotherapy.  EAP is also often confused with EAL (replace Psychotherapy with Learning) - this is a practice done by horse professionals who are NOT licensed therapists, and whose focus is often on personal growth or coaching.  Similar, but not the same.  EAL can be powerful work - but if you are looking for psychotherapy, you need a licensed therapist - and EAP.

Let's say you are seeking a therapist - you want to work on something emotional, mental, or behavioral (i.e. stress, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, family issues, parenting, trauma, etc) - why might you choose EAP?  My favorite reason...because it is experiential.  That means that instead of going into an office and talking about your problems, you come to the ranch and experience your problems.  Now that may sound unappealing, so let me elaborate.  When we see a talk therapist in an office (and I'm not dogging this work, it can be very powerful) - we often arrive, talk about ourselves and our life, and then leave with some ideas about what we might do or think about differently in the week between our sessions. In an EAP session, you come to session and begin to engage in a relationship with a horse or horses - you interact, try to accomplish tasks, try to connect.  In doing so, the typical things that often cause you problems in life happen IN session.  Do you over accommodate? Then you will over accommodate that horse.  Do you try to control others? Then you will try to control that horse.  Do you get frustrated and quit easily? Then you will get frustrated and quit with that horse.  Do you focus so much on a task that you forget to connect with others?  Then that's what will happen with that horse.  See a pattern here?  So rather than spending hours and hours, weeks and weeks in an office trying to decode all your thoughts/feelings/behaviors - a therapist in an EAP session will actually have a chance to see your behaviors in action, generally right away.  Many times, believe it or not, I am able to observe the very heart of a client's work within the first couple of sessions. Not due to any magic or genius on my part - but because who we are with the horses is who we are everywhere.  THEN, the therapist, the client, and the horse all come together to make the changes necessary also IN the session.  A client doesn't have to go home to try things out and report back, the client can try things out with their horse and therapist there to support them and guide them.  The client gets real-time feedback and learns while anxious, or afraid, or angry - and is supported in changing that IN THE MOMENT.  It is powerful, transformational, and encourages changes in the brain for a lasting effect.

So what might this look like in a play-by-play?  When I have a new client, we begin with a bit of history - why are you here, what's been happening in your life, where do you come from, where do you want to go; that sort of thing.  This can happen in my office or as we walk around meeting horses.  Some clients prefer the movement and comforting interaction of horses while they talk about themselves.  Then, we move into choosing a horse to work with.  Here the experiential work begins.  Some clients choose the horse that chooses them.  Others choose the one that reminds them of something or someone.  Others choose the one they feel connected to.  Trusting yourself, listening to your preferences, and making a decision can bring up feelings and thoughts right away.  For some, lots of work is done in the choosing of a horse - for others, it is a simple activity that lasts only the first session.  Once the client has found their partner any number of things can happen each session; we simply encourage them to build a relationship.  This involves spending time together, asking the horse to move from one place to another, perhaps grooming, navigating obstacles together, noticing how a horse communicates to us, and other things that we call 'groundwork' - like learning how to ask a horse to stop, turn, go, come to you, follow you, stand still, etc. while standing on the ground. We do as much of this as possible without any ropes/halters or other control devices so that the horses can be their authentic selves.  Sometimes sessions include riding, but only when appropriate for the therapy.  What does all of this matter?  Well, as a client navigates all of these tasks they inevitably make requests, have to set boundaries, need to ask for space, deal with closeness and touch, manage frustration and fear, practice assertiveness, build trust, manage anxiety and internal energy...the list goes on.  What I have found is that whatever comes up for my clients out in their "real lives" happens in our sessions - because what they are doing is building a real relationship with a horse.  It may sound unusual to anyone with limited animal experience - but it is truly possible to have a real, mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationship with a horse - I see it all the time.  And it is in this relationship, along with the relationship a client builds with their therapist, in which healing and growth occur. 

So, some clients may spend weeks standing in a pasture trying to make a decision about which horse to approach - this happens when decision-making and trusting the self is the work.  Some clients will spend their time trying to accomplish tasks, but forgetting to connect with themselves and the horse emotionally, leading to struggle in the task - this happens when connection to self and others is the work.  Some clients will choose a horse that steps on their feet and pushes them with their nose - the work is then about boundary setting and self-worth.  Every relationship is different, every session looks a little different.  But ultimately, client, therapist, and horse come together to create an experience....then process that experience...and then try to have a new, better experience.  All in an environment where authenticity, non-judgement, and vulnerability are sought and highly valued.

The goal in all of this is that the client learns a new way of being in the world - which is really what therapy is all about.



***Be on the lookout for a post discussing the mounted work of EAP - improving brain function, self-regulation, and relationship all at the same time!

Disclaimer: SOME therapists do an excellent job of being experiential in an office.  I just prefer and find it more natural out with the horses.  :) 


Pausing, Waiting, Silence.

The topic of ‘waiting’ has come up several times for me this week, in a variety of situations.  I find it to be a powerful concept that can be fairly difficult to accept, and even harder to employ.  As counselors, parents, teachers, leaders, and partners one of the greatest life pressures is in the feeling that we should always know what to do.  “What if my client asks me a question I don’t know the answer to?”  “What if my kid doesn’t listen to me?”  “What if my partner does something hurtful?”

What if, what if, what if.

That feeling you are experiencing as you ask yourselves this question of “What if?” is anxiety.  Do you feel it?  Adrenaline causing a squeeze in your chest, making your heart beat louder and more quickly?  That shortness of breath.  That strong desire to jump into action?  But ‘what if’ the best course of action was no action at all – at least at first?  What if pausing, waiting, and silence were your best tools for a successful outcome?

When we experience anxiety and fear (fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake, fear of being inadequate), our brains kick into survival mode, to our brains and bodies fear of the unknown feels just like fear of a predator – fear is fear.  So, as the highly evolved animals we are, our brains and bodies jump into “save me” mode.  Adrenaline courses through us preparing for fight/flight, which is exactly the reason we feel the need to jump into action – to hurl angry words at our partner, to get big and demanding with our children, and to launch into a know-it-all lecture for our clients.  We are protecting ourselves in that moment.  However, when we protect ourselves, when our focus is on “save me”, we aren’t using our relational and critical thinking capabilities.  “Save me” mode doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, or about consequences and long-term effects.

So imagine that in that moment when your brain and body want to jump into action, to defend or to flee, that instead you choose to pause.  To wait.  To allow silence and space.  This is not always easy, our desire to save ourselves is strong.  Asking ourselves to pause in a critical moment takes practice and patience, and most of all, self-awareness.  Because, we can’t pause in a moment we don’t recognize is happening.

 But with practice, you will.  And then you will have a choice to pause.  And in that pause you give yourself time to slow your heart rate, breathe a little more deeply, and remember that as a clinician you don’t need to have all the answers, as a parent you don’t need to have control, as a partner you don’t need to win the argument.  In pausing you allow your brain and body to remember that it is in fact not in danger, that this person or feeling you are confronted with is not the enemy, and that in giving yourself a moment you get to make a conscious choice as to how to proceed.

Clearly, I am a strong believer in the pause, the wait, the silence.  But, not everyone agrees with me.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, “Waiting doesn’t work.”  Waiting out my anger or discomfort, waiting out my child’s tantrum, waiting out the moment…doesn’t work.

My question in return has become,

"At what point in your waiting did you decide your waiting wasn’t working, and therefore stopped waiting and did something else?"

To me, it is like a law of the universe – waiting works, because when you decide to wait out discomfort you don’t stop waiting until discomfort has passed.  When you decide to wait out a child’s big emotions, you don’t stop waiting until the wave of emotions have passed. Waiting always works if you allow it.   And when waiting is done in a calm, loving, compassionate way – it saves you from hurting your relationships, including the one you have with yourself. 

So in the end, you do save you…but you also save the relationship in the process.   

My Natural Lifemanship colleague, Reccia Jobe, shared this adding that she would change "little people" to "anyone".  I concur.

My Natural Lifemanship colleague, Reccia Jobe, shared this adding that she would change "little people" to "anyone".  I concur.

What's beneath the anger?

Anger.  We all experience it.  Few of us enjoy it.  Fewer still understand it.  Why does it happen, and what is the point?  Anger, like any emotion, is the product of body and mind in response to a stimulus.  It happens so quickly that we don't really get a choice in the matter.  But, thanks to a highly developed neocortex, we do get a choice in what we do with it.  It may not feel that way sometimes, but it's true.  But in order to do something constructive with our anger, we need to better understand it - we have to dig a little deeper.  Emotions show up to tell us something - they arrive to deliver a message.  We can accept and hear that message, or we can ignore it.  But, it's coming either way.  Anger is no different.

If you have ever spent much time with a therapist, you have probably heard the question, "What is beneath your anger?"  For many, this is a frustrating question, eliciting a response like, "What do you mean beneath my anger...I'm angry, that's it!"  But many in the field of psychology call anger a 'secondary emotion', as in it comes second to a primary emotion...the thing you feel first.  So to better understand anger, we have to allow space for that first feeling that leads to the anger.  Most often, our primary emotion is more vulnerable - it's fear, or hurt, or helplessness.  But, being the human animals that we are, we don’t like vulnerability.  The body and brain don’t distinguish between physical vulnerability and emotional vulnerability.  Fear of loneliness and fear of a saber-toothed tiger are interpreted as the same in the mind and body – they are simply fear.  The body’s natural response to vulnerability is to protect itself.  Fight, flight.  Anger.  We wrap ourselves in an armor of anger.  And it works, sort of.  We defend, we feel strong, we are independent and self-sufficient – we are not weak!  No! 

But, here’s the kicker.  When you wrap yourself in sturdy armor, you have trapped yourself inside…along with those vulnerable feelings.  So yes, you are strong on the outside.  But you are alone with vulnerability on the inside, separate from everyone else.  For many of us, being alone with our vulnerability means…MORE ARMOR!  Pile it on, layers and layers of anger, defensiveness, stone walls – vulnerable you on the inside, everyone else on the outside.  And this works for a while, it can “work” for a lifetime. But the real tragedy here is that whatever we repeatedly do, we become.  This is because the brain grows and develops based on repetition, based on experience.  So the more we defend against vulnerability, the more we let anger control us…the easier it becomes.  And then anger is our habit, angry is who we are.

However, there is another way.  We can ask, “what is beneath our anger?”  We can tap into our vulnerability, understand it, take care of it.  And then our emotions have delivered their message, and they can go.  This is what we miss out on if we don’t attend to our emotions.  We don’t realize they simply need to give us a message, and when we receive it the emotion subsides.  Now some emotions are stronger than others, and some never fully leave – but they do subside.  They become manageable, tolerable.  So many of us don’t know this because we have spent all our time fueled by avoiding, fueled by protecting against…trapped in our armor.

So what does it look like, in real life?  An example.  As I wrote this blog post on anger, my writing program crashed.  Twice.  Losing the majority of my writing in the process.  My initial reaction was to 1) curse, 2) slam my laptop shut, 3) stomp around the house muttering, cursing, sighing. I realized I was angry.  Like super angry.  Recognizing the irony of my anger about my post on anger, I stopped and asked myself what was underneath this anger.  Why was I so angry?  And in giving myself that moment, I realized I was disappointed – I thought what I was writing was good; I thought I was almost finished.  Knowing I need and want to write a blog post creates this small nagging anxiety in the back of my mind, until I get it out.  So I was disappointed, I had almost cleared myself of that anxiety for a while. I realized I was also afraid.  What if I can’t remember what I was writing?  What if I can’t make the second…third version nearly as good as the first?  I’m a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writer (I think that’s just something I made up, but go with it).  Thoughts pour out of me.  Then when I am finished, I go back and read, edit, add, re-write.  But it is really difficult for me to stop midway through a first draft and then try to pick up where I left off later.  (I’m realizing this is why I wrote most of my school papers in one sitting, rather than doling out the work over several days/weeks).  So, there is that vulnerable feeling.  I am so disappointed, and I am scared that I don’t have it in me a second…third time.  Digging deeper still, I recognize my fear also looks like doubt.  I’m thinking, “Why am I even spending all this time on a blog post – I don’t have anything to say!  I’m not a writer!”

But, if I don’t write about this, I will have that nagging feeling.  I’m disappointed because I really enjoy the act of writing and am sad I lost my first…and second thoughts.  I’m afraid because I’m putting myself out there, I could be rejected. I also remember that my blog doesn’t exist because I am important and others should listen.  It exists because I have thoughts I want to put into words, and that if these thoughts are even remotely helpful to someone else – even one person, it was worth it.  It is why I studied psychology; it is why I am a therapist – to help myself and others live a life of our choosing.  But I recognize I cannot write coherently about anger and vulnerability while in an angry, vulnerable place.  Which means it is time for a break to get re-centered.  Get my stream of consciousness back.  Twenty minutes on my yoga mat, and now I feel like I can face this page again.  Could I have come back to this after only 20 minutes had I not faced what was beneath my anger?  I don’t think so, maybe you could have, but I couldn’t.  I’d still be stomping around in the house, maybe have turned on the TV in disgust, thinking “Screw it, nobody is going to read this anyway.”  That’s where my anger would have gotten me.  It’s not very appealing, is it?

We all experience anger, it is not shameful or low, it just is.  But, as conscious beings, we also get a choice in what we do with our anger.  Do we let anger run amuck?  Or do we search beneath the anger, listen to its message, and then let it pass?  Do we allow ourselves space to decide? To acknowledge our vulnerability, learn from it, use it – so we can get back to nourishing our souls with writing, connecting, listening, loving? 

The power and the pain of it is that it is entirely, utterly, your choice.


**Working with children on the concept of anger?  I LOVE this visual from The Gottman Institute: The Anger Iceberg!

When kids push our buttons

This video that's circulating the internet, the one of the teen girl being ripped out of her desk by a "peace officer" in a classroom, has grabbed me and won't let go.  If you haven't seen it, it is a violent interaction between an adult and a teen on a school campus.  Which, in every way, is disturbing to me.  Some may describe it differently - if you have a strong stomach, watch it yourself and see what you think.  (I will not be sharing it here.)  Lots of talk has occurred about who the teen girl is, who the officer is, and who was in the right.  Honestly, I don't think any of it is relevant.  Yes, her history could explain some things; yes, what happened leading up to this could be of interest.  But in all seriousness - she is a teen...a child, who was sitting quietly and was forcibly removed from her seat, causing injury.  Nothing else really need enter the conversation.

Our culture has a long history of treating children as second class citizens.  Whether we like to acknowledge it, we believe children should be quiet and obedient...some may say "respectful", but too often what they actually mean is "obedient".  Consider how classrooms are set up, how children are expected to behave within them.  Consider how quick we are to anger when children don't "do as they're told". There is still debate over whether or not it is ok to hit a child.  Some call it "spanking", but hitting is hitting, folks.  Think about all the times we mostly get exasperated and annoyed when children are upset or angry.  Would any of this thinking fly if you applied it to your husband, wife, mother, boss, employee??  No?  Interesting....

So, as a family therapist, and one who has spent some intensive time working with at-risk children with serious behavior issues - I have been thinking about this video a lot, as well as the conversations that are happening around it.  I have been thinking about what I would have done, what my beliefs and professional knowledge would have informed me to do.  I've been thinking about why so many people want to justify this officer's actions. Because I absolutely believe this situation could have been resolved peacefully. I know this because I, and the therapists I work with, do it all the time.  Not because of any magic of character or secret phenomenon.  But because from our experiences we have learned one very simple, very powerful thing: that for our children's sake we CANNOT allow anger to cause us to lose control of ourselves.  A child's (including a teen's) brain functioning still has a long ways to go in its development.  Executive functioning (problem-solving, impulse control, cause-effect thinking, emotion regulation, etc) is still under development until our mid-twenties.  And that's if we've had a stable, safe upbringing.  So, at best, a teen's ability to control her impulses and regulate her emotions is under-developed; therefore, if you are the adult in the room with this child, your number one job is staying calm.  You have to show her how.  Honestly, most of my professional advice for parents comes down to this: do what you have to do to stay in control of yourself, to stay calm.  Take a break from the moment, BREATHE, get professional help, call for backup...whatever it takes.  Because the moment you lose control of yourself, you've lost the moment.  

I think we can all put ourselves in this officer's shoes to a certain extent.  She is defiant, the whole class is watching; he is thinking "She WILL leave this classroom if it's the last thing I do."  Anger is creeping up and taking hold.  But is that really what is important here - unquestioning obedience?  Is this teen exiting the classroom actually the thing that matters?  Or is modeling to this teen that no matter how defiant she is, the adults will never harm her; and modeling to her that when you are mad, frustrated, livid even, you can still do the right thing - isn't THAT what we want her to take away from this?  So the challenge is, and this is absolutely a challenge - it doesn't come easy to any of us.  The challenge is: You cannot ask a child to do what you cannot do yourself.  This is a common refrain among professionals who work with "tough" children.  You cannot ask a child to do what you cannot do yourself.  If you can't handle a difficult situation calmly - how can you expect them to?

So, regardless of who said what, or how this moment came to pass; a man responsible for the safety and order of a school campus let a child anger him to such an extent that he lost control of himself and became violent.  This was an extraordinary event, one many of us will never experience I hope.  However, I do believe there are lessons for every day life in this.  Anger is a natural feeling we all experience, it arises for various reasons and no one is so regulated that they avoid anger completely.  But, what we DO with anger is a CHOICE we make.  No matter what anyone else does, we still get to choose how we respond to them, to life.

It just doesn't matter how disobedient or difficult this girl was being - she still needed to be treated like a human being who was struggling to make a good choice.  It doesn't matter how angry the peace officer was, he still needed to find a way to calmly resolve the situation.  Because now, this girl not only has physical wounds but emotional as well.  Her trust in her school administrators, police officers, and adults in general (if she ever had any) has now been horribly ruptured, possibly irreparably so - and what kind of choices does a teen with no faith in her school, law enforcement, or authority figures make?  What kind of adult does she become? 

And what's more, when we allow anger to take over, what kind of person do we become?  


I've been on a writing hiatus.   I am told this is the most surefire way to let your blog die.  However, after more than a year of being immersed in some life changing work, too many thoughts are swirling in my head, telling me it's time to write them down again.  If it ends up just being for me, I am ok with that.  But my sincere hope is that there are others who might engage with these thoughts, in whatever way is useful - agree, disagree, cause to think, cause to change, cause to unfollow.  I like to hear others' perspectives and I like conversations that make me stop and think - this is why I write a blog rather than simply in a journal.  Perhaps much of what I write will be just for me.  But if not, I hope you will say something, ask something, push back - because, as Gary Snyder says, " think clearly we must avoid narrow interests or entrenched opinions."

The purpose of this blog going forward will be about the same - my experiences and thoughts as a professional psychotherapist, applied to the day in day out aspects of our lives.  I am currently pulled to think on and write about the topics of connection, fear, relationship, nature (human and otherwise) - pretty similar to before.  However, I may stray into theory and philosophy some these days as I am reading and challenging my own thinking more.  It's possible I've grown more holistic and "woo woo" in my time away - so, if you do decide to read along, prepare yourself for that.

As I have said before, take what fits for you, leave the rest.....but maybe let it percolate first.  I intend to do the same.


Health, Happiness, and Your Brain

So last night I went to see Dr. Dan Siegel speak - yes, for my friday night I went all by myself to a lecture on neurobiology - and it was AWESOME.  I am bursting with new ideas for my work, as well as for my personal life.  I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you today, in a (sort of) quick post.

Dr. Siegel is an MD, specializing in psychiatry for children, adolescents and adults.  His work is largely centered around brain development, and more specifically, interpersonal neurobiology - which in an overly simplified nutshell means he studies how experience shapes the brain.  He is a prolific author, and any one of his books are a great resource for anyone. His latest book, Brainstorm, discusses the adolescent brain.  (Highly recommend for teenagers, parents of teenagers, and anyone who works with teenagers.)

Last night, Dr. Siegel spoke at length about Brainstorm, but also about advancements in research on brain development in general. Three major ideas he spoke on last night I felt were concepts that not only inspire me to continue in the direction I am headed professionally, but they are also concepts that I think are easy to take home and apply in your own life, right away.

1) "Being Present" makes us happier and healthier
          Cultivating Mindfulness, where you practice focusing on what is happening in the moment, using your senses to take in information, and calm your thinking about the past/future, has incredible positive effects.  Previously, the positive effects were hard to communicate - the general consensus was 'it just makes you feel better'.  NOW though, we know that practicing mindfulness, slowing down your thinking, using your senses, and focusing on the present moment ACTUALLY CHANGES YOUR BRAIN AND BODY.
          When you are "present", your body releases Telomerase, an enzyme that actually helps to slow the aging process in your body.  When you are "present", you brain actually expresses genes in a more healthy way helping to prevent disease in the body.  When you are "present", inflammation is reduced in the body (inflammation is thought to be one of the most damaging problems in modern health).  Being "present" also results in more brain integration (a whole other topic) which in turn makes us more able to regulate our emotions and control our nervous system.
          Being present is a very good practice, you can start today easily.  A great introductory activity: sit comfortably, close your eyes, place a hand on your chest, and notice your breath for at least 5 breaths.  That's all you have to do, notice your breath, pay attention to what it feels like.  Easy!

2) Being more like an adolescent is just the thing adults need
          Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain continues to grow and change through the lifespan.  This means the brain can heal itself over and over, but it can also change in a way that's not so great for us.  The brain is like a muscle, it needs activity to keep it strong. Some of the best activities include:
          Active emotionality - what we might call "passion"; care about something, laugh, cry, love
          Social interactions - research consistently shows that we, without a doubt, NEED other people to survive and thrive; talk and listen
          Novelty - trying new things challenges and renews the brain; go learn something new
          Creative expression - challenge the status quo, think outside the box, tap into your creative side

Funnily enough - these are the exact same things that adolescents are drawn to as they transition from childhood to adulthood.  So, simply put, in order to stay young, ACT YOUNG.

3) Trust your Gut
           We have significant clusters of neurons around our hearts and our intestines.  Our bodies receive information in non-verbal, unconscious ways through these clusters that is extremely valuable.  Yes, we are conscious beings with the advantage of critical, analytical thinking - but don't ignore it when you "just know something", your body is communicating to you just as much as your thinking brain!

I hope you feel as inspired by this information as I am - how could you apply this in your everyday, real life?


Where do you belong?

Do you have a spot in your home that is your spot?  The small area you return to over and over again for whatever reason; the spot others (the cat, the dog, your spouse) get kicked out of if they should ever have the lapse in judgement to sit there…in your spot?  I have one, on the left side of my sofa, I surround myself in pillows and have a perfect view of my backyard - I'm sitting here now, as a matter of fact.

Or maybe you don't have a spot, but I bet you have a side of the bed, or your side of the bathroom sink,  or the place you usually park your car at work (I have all of these things).

We as human beings have an innate desire to belong.  Some would call it being territorial, a feeling of ownership, or sense of control, and I don't disagree - but I think fundamentally, at our very core, it's about feeling like we belong.  You get into your side of the bed, or settle into your favorite spot in the house, and you have the sensation, "I'm supposed to be here."  There is something so comforting and peaceful about that sensation.  You are exactly where you need to be, you belong right here.

So often, people come into my office describing the emptiness of being lonely - not just the sensation of not having people around - but real existential loneliness, the feeling of "I am all alone in this life".  It can be expressed and felt in so many ways.  From a misunderstanding, to a break up, to growing up - we all have those moments where we think, "Crap, I'm alone."  Even when you are surrounded by a hundred loving people, you can still feel this way.

Now, philosophers, scientists, and theologians have debated this idea of alone-ness for thousands of years - I am not in the business of debate, I will leave that to them.  What I do know is that people feel alone all the time, and simply because of that fact, it is an idea worth addressing.  Reason is a beautiful thing, but it has a way of demonizing the unknowable, even if we all share it.

So, how do you face that feeling of being alone?  One idea I include in much of my practice: Cultivate, or return to, places where you feel you belong.  A sense of place can be a powerful thing.  Just consider the difference in the way you feel between a friend's home and your own home.  Or the difference you feel between a bustling city and a remote mountaintop.  Places infuse us with their energy - imagine what energy you would receive from a place that truly felt like home.

Your spot - it could be in your house somewhere.  But, you aren't always at home, you can't take your home with you, and homes change over time.  I challenge you to think bigger.  Go outside. Find a spot that reminds you that you belong on this planet, among the living things that grow and suffer and thrive.  You breathe the same air, you feel the same sun and rain, you look at the same sky.  Look for a spot under a tree, or in your backyard, or along a creek, and return there often.  Notice the way that life continues there through day and night, summer and winter, year after year.  Notice that all you have to do to be welcome there is to simply be.  No judgment, no pretense, no expectations.  

If you want to go a step further - tend to this place.  Pick up trash, remove clutter, help it grow.  Caring for something outside of yourself might seem like a small thing, but you will be pleasantly surprised by how much more a part of something you feel if you infuse it with your energy, as it infuses you.

So, tell me, where do you belong?