Posted by: Edward | June 7, 2023

The Artist and the Art

The creation of ourselves is a complicated business, built in layers over a lifetime. We are built as much by what happens to us as by how we interpret that, and how we choose to respond. As long as we live we are not done creating this unique work of art, this collaborative collage.

Image by Jazmin Quaynor.

Sometimes we think this is something done to us, rather than something we do. Which is understandable as the process begins before we are capable of understanding our role in it.

Our interpretations of what happens to us, and why, were made by child-like minds with very little life experience. The choices we made were made with those same child-like minds with very little personal, economic, or social power. In short, we did the best we could with what we had in that moment.

The bad news is those early experiences, interpretations, and choices form the scaffolding for our later creative work. As a visual artist will tell you, an ink line or brushstroke laid down can’t be taken up again. And unlike them, we don’t have the option of scrapping the whole thing and starting over.

The choice we have now is how to work with what’s there.

And that’s the beginning of the good news, we have a choice about how we work with what’s there, because we are not done creating this particular work of art.

Our brains are far more sophisticated now than when we started. We have far more life experience to draw on. We can even draw on other people’s life experience through observation, through listening, and through reading. And most of us have many more options available to us and far more social and economic power than we had as children.

But most importantly, we can recognize our part in creating ourselves and take control over our interpretations and to choices. And not just our interpretations and choices about what’s happening now but also what happened in our past.

We can layer new interpretations over our old ones. We can make new choices. We can change what it all means, as long as we can accept the responsibility of being the artist AND the art.


White Gloves: how we create ourselves through memory by John Kotre.

Posted by: Edward | May 16, 2023

Securing Attachment Together

We learn how to self soothe by first being soothed. We learn how to regulate by first regulating with others.

In order to live functional lives we need to be able to self-regulate and connect and regulate with others. The best time to have learned these skills is during infancy and early childhood. The second best time is now.

Unfortunately not everyone gets sufficient experience of attuned caring and co-regulation as children to have internalized those skills. In these cases, the core role of the therapist or counselor is to be a surrogate caregiver, a good enough parent, and to create for the client what David Winnicott called a holding environment.

This is very similar to what Carl Rogers identified as the core conditions for therapeutic change: congruence, unconditional positive regard, and accurate empathy.

First, as a counselor, we must establish rapport and trust. This is to make ourselves someone the client can attach to. Then we must continually create and repair this holding environment through our calm comportment and caring attunement with our client’s ongoing present moment experience and feelings.

Carl Rogers’ insight was that if this was all we did as counselors, this would be enough for us to help our clients to change. This fosters the environment necessary for our clients to heal themselves.

The counselor can be a surrogate attachment figure that the client can use as a secure base and safe haven. Additionally, with calm comportment and kind curiosity, the counselor can help the client explore their learned response patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior, and whether they work to lead the client towards what matters them.


Nurturing Resilience by Kathy L. Kain and Stephen J. Terrell.

Posted by: Edward | May 8, 2023

The Cellular Intelligence of Boundaries

To understand how our boundaries need to be, let’s look back at the original boundary, the cell membrane. The cell membrane embodies a deep wisdom. It’s job is to grow, to encounter the world and learn, but also to protect.

An image of a jellyfish in the dark by and machines

In order to protect the cell within, it will close itself off from world. This is meant to be a temporary measure for if the cell stays closed off too long, it can’t feed or breathe. It will die.

This boundary is intelligent. It learns what in it’s environment helps it and what harms it. It learns when to open and when to close. Ultimately it can only do one at a time and it gets more out of opening than closing, so protection is meant to be temporary.

As soon as the cell recognizes the danger has passed, it will open again.

Ideally we will learn to use our boundaries the same way, as the border that connects us to others and the world, to feed and breathe and learn, and only closing when absolutely necessary. Only closing when what we are encountering is actually harmful to us.

We call this ability to recognize when it is safe to open, trust. Mindful trust. Discerning trust. Trust that has learned what is truly harmful to us and what is not.

As we develop this cellular intelligence, it allows us to more and more engage with the world and others with openness and vulnerability. This is what allows us to get our needs met, to learn, to grow, and to connect with others with the authentic intimacy we fundamentally crave.


Liberated to the Bone by Susan Raffo
Posted by: Edward | April 5, 2023

The Wu Wei of Essentialism

Wu wei is not doing in order to let things effortlessly happen.

Often we think of productivity or effectiveness as something we need to do more of, as something we need to add in order to make more happen. And wu wei, doing by not doing, seems like a paradox. But it’s important to realize that we are already doing. There has never been a society so focused on doing over being.

Given that we are already doing so much, and we have a lifetime of doing more to solve our problems, the most powerful thing we could do is less. We could do less of how we’re getting in our own way. We could do less of the things that don’t matter. We could do less of the complicated and overly sophisticated tricks and hacks.

In a Chuang Tzu’s Daoist teaching story of Chef Ting, Chef Ting is successful because he cuts less. He cuts less because he took the time to really learn where to cut. We can do the same.

Stop trying to do more, slow down, and take the time to really learn where to cut. I’m not telling you to change anything, don’t make cutting another doing. Slow down. Rest in mindfulness. Allow yourself to become aware of what you are already doing. Allow yourself to get to know the flow or process of how you go about living.

Cultivate patience and kind curiosity by refraining from changing until you deeply understand how the system currently works. And how it doesn’t. You will start to notice ways you get in your own way. You will notice things that annoy you, things that take too long, things that are too complicated. You will notice things you do over and over again that eat up your time, energy, or joy. You will notice time and energy spent on things that are ultimately unimportant to you.

It is important that I again remind you to refrain. Refrain from trying to fix it. But also, refrain from judging yourself or punishing yourself for what you notice. Look on your behavior with kind curiosity. You are a human being like anyone else doing your best, based on how you’ve learned to be.

You got here by applying the same strategy and solution we’ve all been taught to use, doing more and working harder.

Looking at yourself with curiosity allows you to ask yourself questions like, what am I trying to achieve when I do that, where did I learn to do that, and is doing that moving me towards what matters to me or away from it? You will start to see patterns and connections in your behaviors. You will begin to see underlying issues. You will realize what eats up the most of your time, energy, and joy; either in big disruptions or in the frequency of tiny disruptions.

Now you are ready to make a cut, a decision, that removes a key obstacle.

This first cut is an experiment. In truth, we don’t know what will happen until after we’ve done it. So slow down, refrain from additional action or judgment. Rest in mindfulness and notice what happens with kind curiosity.

Don’t muck about with a bunch of small fiddly changes. Don’t muddy the waters by making another change before you know the results of your experiment.

If you’ve taken the time to really understand the system of your behavior, the pattern of your doing, you will learn a lot from this cut. And if you give yourself the time you need, you’ll know where to cut next.


Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Posted by: Edward | March 9, 2023

A Friendly Introduction to Trauma

Our trauma responses are deeply wired into our bodies and brains. They live below and before the parts of us that are human and are instead part of our animal heritage. They are response systems older, faster, and more primitive than thought.

Photo by Alexander Grey

These systems live on in us because they work. The living beings who had these systems were far more likely to survive long enough to be our ancestors then the ones that didn’t.

When these systems are activated they preempt our slower, more complicated, and more recently evolved brain systems. When our body mind perceives our survival is at risk, thinking is no longer the priority.

This means that while these survival systems are activated, we can do things we wouldn’t choose to if we were thinking. Things that surprise us. Things that go against our values. Understanding how these body mind systems work can help us cope with embarrassment, guilt, and shame over what we did, or didn’t do, in order to survive.

These survival systems evolved to be acute responses. A threat arises, they turn on, we do what we need to do, the threat passes, we shake it off or otherwise process it, and we return to baseline. And most of the time that’s how it goes.

Other times we aren’t so lucky. Sometimes our experiences are too overwhelming and we’re unable to fight or flee our way out of them. Sometimes we freeze or dissociate and our minds can’t make sense of the experiences afterwards. These experiences form what we call trauma.

We will then be prone to having our survival systems activated in situations that remind our brain of the traumatic experience. Because our brains have trouble making sense of the traumatic experiences, these reminders can seem as if they’re the original situation happening now. This is what is referred to as flashbacks.

Sometimes these can be as vivid as hallucinations or waking dreams. Other times these can be more subtle, where we are in the emotional states from the experience. And given the nature of traumatic experiences these can be feelings like rage, terror, confusion, despair. These powerful unpleasant feelings can be mismatched to what is actually happening now.

This re-experiencing can also occur in our dreams. The most common trauma symptom is nightmares.

Another form of re-experiencing is the tendency for people with significant trauma to recreate or set up situations similar to their trauma. This is one of the reasons some of us find ourselves in relationships that are strikingly familiar.

With all of these forms of re-experiencing our survival systems tend to get highly activated. And each and every time they do our thinking is distorted and stress is impacting our bodies.

People who have experienced trauma over extended periods of time may also find that these threat detection and threat defense systems start staying active all the time.

This might look like being angry and ready to fight, all the time. It might look like running around and always needing to be busy. It might look like having no energy, not really being present in our lives, and having given up. It might look like always expecting and looking for danger and catastrophe. It might look a lot like anger problems, hyperactivity, depression, and anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying these issues are always or only a matter of trauma but sometimes trauma is a major factor in their development. And if other treatments don’t help someone with them, exploring whether and how trauma might be involved may be a good idea.

The better we understand trauma the more we are finding that people have. So if you think you might have trauma, understand that it is a normal human experience. Facing the challenges of life sometimes bruises us. Many people have trauma. I have trauma.

Many people have trauma but don’t have sufficient symptoms to qualify as having post-traumatic stress disorder. If that’s you, that’s okay, it doesn’t make your experiences any less valid.

What matters is whether your trauma experiences are interfering with your ability to live your life. If they are, then you might benefit from seeking help.

This can be help with skills to cope with or live around the trauma you have, this is often called trauma-informed care. Or this can be help to more directly address the traumatic experiences themselves, this is generally called trauma therapy or trauma counseling.

There are several different styles, schools, or approaches to trauma therapy, each with their own focus and with similarities and differences between them. But in general, healing from trauma is found in connection and letting what is trapped within us to be experienced, understood, and expressed.

These knots begin to untangle when we can be with the memories, sensations, and feelings of the past AND with what is happening in the present moment. When we can be with our feelings and bodily sensations AND with the parts of our brain that can speak and make sense of things. And when we can be with the thoughts and feelings inside us AND be present and connected with the people around us.

Posted by: Edward | January 20, 2023

Escaping our Stories

Often we mistake our ideas about ourselves for our self.

Photo by Marc Clinton Labiano

Thoughts and feelings tend to go together. When you are thinking a particular way you tend to feel in a manner congruent to that. When you are feeling a particular way you tend to think in a manner congruent to that.

The brain is an association machine, when it has part of a pattern, it wants the rest of the pattern.

If we’re really hooked into a particular thought and feeling combo, we can forget that at other times we think and feel in different ways. But we are not whatever thought and feeling pattern we are currently experiencing. We are what experiences those changing patterns.

We are not the weather, we are the sky.

Some of the hardest thoughts to unhook from are the ones we have about ourselves. It is easy to mistake the stories we tell ourselves about who we are for who we are. Especially when we’ve been telling ourselves that story for years.

We can have all sorts of thoughts about ourselves. Thoughts like, “nothing I do ever works out” or “no one likes me” or “I’m just a loser.”

And in the moment, it can feel like these are true and meaningful. But they are *just* thoughts, produced largely out of habit. Often these harsh and negative thoughts pop up in order to protect us from taking emotional risks or from feeling vulnerable.

Even if these thoughts feel true, because we have lots of past history to point out as evidence for them, they are just thoughts. They do not know the future and they’re not taking into account that we can grow and change and become more than we were.

We are capable of recognizing that these thoughts are just thoughts, not commandments, and to choose to act not the way we have but the way we want to. To embody our values moment to moment.

As we realize that our thoughts about our self is not that Self but just a story, we are free to write a new story, based on what truly matters to us.

Posted by: Edward | December 30, 2022

Strike at the Root

Everything changes as we learn how to feel okay about ourselves.

Photo by Zach Reiner

So much envy, anger, fear, and shame along with all the aggression, loss aversion, defensiveness, grasping, condescension, and avoidance are simply unnecessary when you come to not only believe but to feel that you are basically okay.

When you recognize that you are worthy of care, capable of getting your needs met, likable, and have a right to your own needs, preferences, and understanding of the world, you no longer need to compete or struggle with others.

So many of us spend so much time commenting on, worrying about, and fighting with the splinter in someone else’s eye because we are terrified about what we’ll find in our own.

And sure, we probably do have a plank in there. But we also have our eye in there. Underneath all the confusion we learned to survive our lives is a perfectly good human being.

We are lovable, even if we’ve been surrounded by people who weren’t able to do that. We are capable of identifying and pursuing our needs and preferences, even if we’ve spent a lifetime believing we can’t and being punished for trying.We don’t need to fight to force others to recognize our value. We need to give ourselves permission to recognize our own.

We don’t need to fight to force others to recognize our value. We need to give ourselves permission to recognize our own.

Posted by: Edward | September 19, 2022

The Swimming Pool of Trauma

Trauma therapy as learning to swim

We don’t start by throwing you into Mariana’s Trench. We start by teaching you safety skills before you even get in the water.

Then we take you to a pool with a nice graduated slope starting on one end from really shallow, maybe only as high as your waist so that you can always keep your head above water, and that may even be deep enough for you to use the diving board at the other end.

We’ll let you go in that shallow end so you get used to the feeling of being in the pool without it being too deep. We’ll let you practice getting in and out of the pool, so that you can start to feel confident you can do that if you need to.

Then we’ll take you in just a little bit deeper until we get to a place where you can always stand up to keep your head above water. Then we’ll practice you moving from trying to swim to standing, trying to float to standing, so that you get used to having that degree of safety.

And we’ll do a lot of skills training at that range, practicing swimming, different styles of strokes, practicing floating, practicing treading water. Always shallow enough that you can safely put your feet down and keep your head up and keep breathing.

A lot of the important work can be done at this level, you can build skills that could keep you alive if you fell into an ocean. Because we know, you’re not always going to be with instructors getting trained. Someday you may even decide to go swimming in much deeper waters.

When you’ve really learned the skills well at the level where you can put your feet down and get your head out of the water, it’s time to do at least some swimming in the deeper end, where there is a bottom but you can’t reach it with your feet.

You need to actually experience it to know that the skills you’ve learned can get you back to the surface and safety and out of that pool, even if you can’t put your feet on the bottom. You can even learn how to dive and swim under the water a little.

Even then you’ll have an instructor or a lifeguard there ready to help you, to pull you out, if you get into trouble in the deep end. And that allows you to have the confidence to do a little bit of that work and learn those skills.

None of this work is going to make the deep feelings and powerful currents of trauma go away. What it’s going to do is give you the skills to handle it when you find yourself in those waters. And you’ll develop the confidence of knowing you know how to swim, you know how to float, you know how to tread water, and you know how to get your head above water, so you can keep breathing.

Posted by: Edward | August 13, 2021

Collecting the Four Goods

1. Good fortune or good luck
2. The good others do for us
3. The good we do for others
4. The good we do for ourselves

Consider this an exercise in gratitude. You could reflect on these at the end of every day or every week. Or you could train yourself to notice when one arrives as they happen.

Good fortune or good luck

These are the benefits and kindnesses that come to us without human intention. This can be something like getting three green lights in a row or seeing a sunset that is particularly beautiful.

The good others do for us

The benefits and kindnesses others do for us. This can be someone doing us a favor or the random acts of kindness that people do, like holding a door or the smile that comes with our coffee.

The good we do for others

Some might think this is a strange thing to feel grateful for but the good we do for others makes others happier and us happier. Practice noticing, recognizing, and appreciating when you choose to add to the total happiness of the world and to act as the kind of person you admire.

The good we do for ourselves

Practice recognizing when you are kind to yourself, when you give yourself a gift, when you do something that enhances your health and well-being. Notice that when you care for yourself you are proving to yourself that you deserve kindness and care.

Focus on the small stuff

Give yourself permission to notice and feel good about the small things. If we build a habit of recognizing the small joys and kindnesses of our lives, it will change the texture of our days. And you don’t need to worry, you’ll still notice the big stuff.

What is in our power and what is not

The first two goods are not under our control, while the second two are. If you aren’t finding enough good things in your world, you can create some. You could do something good for yourself or someone else. And then take a moment to recognize that you made that choice and took that action.

Posted by: Edward | April 23, 2021

Cultivating Self-Caring

We do a lot of lip service to self care but it really matters that you actually care about yourself. It’s not just the actions of taking care of yourself but also cultivating the feeling, that matters. We need to know that someone cares about us and will take care of our needs.

As children, if our parents made us feel like that, we were confident to explore and take risks. As adults, the only person around to give us this feeling consistently, is ourselves. If other people give us this feeling, the more’s the better, but we don’t need to wait for others and let our feelings of well-being depend on the whims or availability of others.

This sort of self-caring is a practice. It involves listening to your feelings and your body, figuring out what they are telling you that you need, and doing what you can to give yourself that because you care about yourself and want to see yourself do well and feel good.

This may feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or fake, at first. And that’s okay, because often our feelings lag behind how we behave. Maybe you have some ideas that you don’t deserve care, kindness, and to have your needs met. Maybe you’ve believed that for a long time, possibly you came to that conclusion because of how others treated you. If that’s the case, talking with a caring counsellor might help.

But in the meantime, all I’m asking you to do is tell yourself, maybe I deserve care, kindness, and to have my needs met… and then to act as if you do.

In the long run, my goal is that you will begin to trust that you care about and will take care of yourself. Because that will probably make you feel safer and more confident to explore and take necessary risks.

But I understand if you do not, at first, because you probably haven’t been acting like it for very long or very consistently. And that’s okay, we don’t have to do this perfectly. We only have to do this good enough. Even parents who did this for their children well, didn’t do this all the time.

What matters is our choice, to do this as well and as often as we can.

It takes time to build new neural connections and to build new habits and new ways of being. And with practice we improve. With time, it will feel familiar, comfortable and real.

And, maybe, you deserve it.

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