The Art of Being

We are used to being in the process of ‘doing.’ From the moment that we get up we are task oriented. This is not a bad thing; after all, we get a certain sense of pride when we are productive, when we feel in motion, when we can cross off items on our to-do list.

Sometimes however, in the process of doing, we forget how to be. Being comes from our moments of stillness, our conscious choice to be mindful – of a moment, of the way that the sun feels on our face, on how something tastes or smells. Being comes from our efforts to slow down; to move through the day at a comfortable pace. Being comes from our acts of kindness towards ourselves and others – taking time to make a tea, giving someone a hug, creating space for laughter, smiling at someone you cross paths with on your walk.

Doing is an external experience, being belongs to the internal. Being creates stability. When we consciously focus on our state of content, when we create joyful moments, when we understand that through self-compassion we harness creativity, that by accepting and giving love we push aware fear, we are building mastery.

We are moving in the art of being.

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Criticism and It’s Internal Voice

“It is all my fault.” “There is something wrong with me.” “Nothing I ever do is good enough.” Clients who come to therapy struggling with self-worth say these things to themselves. And pretty much every one of them had a parent who was critical.

The need to criticize another person is about control. What better way to control someone than to oppress them; if they feel lesser than you, they will most likely do your bidding and you feel safe and secure in top position. Unhealthy? Absolutely.  When we grow up with a critical parent we get these messages honestly; when we become adults, our internal voice takes over and we begin to repeat the messages to ourselves, usually acting in ways that reinforce the way we feel.

We can challenge our inner critic by identifying  the messages, then asking ourselves “Who does this really sound like?” (It doesn’t usually take much exploring to get to the answer.) From there, we can begin to ask ourselves “Could it be different?” And the answer is unequivocally “Yes.”

Your inner critic is yours; it is yours to keep listening to or it is yours to challenge.  You can allow it to keep its throne, or strip it of its power. The choice, ultimately is yours; perhaps that realization is the first step in quieting your internal voice and putting it in its place.

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The Perception of Time

Time is a funny thing. When we feel rushed and overwhelmed, we don’t have enough time; when we are relaxed and comfortable, time is on our side. When we are bored or disengaged, time drags us down.

Time however is eternal. It is not based on our moods or level of being busy. It carries on through grief, loss and heartache. It is a steady in the ebb and flow of our lives. It is our perception of time that will create our associations to it. We decide if it is our friend or our foe. When challenges arise, we have the tendency to detest time; we may even question existentially why and when this happened and what possibly could be its purpose. Sometimes we live in denial as we believe we have all the time in the world.

Perhaps the answer begins in the now. Recognizing that we create our perception of time based on our moods and feelings is the first step in accepting the reality of time; that it is eternal and its existence need not to carry so much weight. When we are feeling joyful, that is when time in its eternity, shows itself in its true colours. The answer then is to ask ourselves “How do I want to spend my time?” Here. Now. Today.

As Mother Teresa so wisely put it:

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa

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The Space Around Us

We often disregard the importance of how our home and surroundings impact our emotional health. When we are feeling blue, we will often look to the circumstances of our life; what is happening in our work, relationships, and the interpersonal situations that those may bring us. We may attribute some of our struggles with lack of exercise or improper diet, or how busy or sedentary we are. Although all of these do have the capacity to influence our emotional health, so do our surroundings.

When we look at our home or office space, is it neat or cluttered? Does it feel organized or chaotic?

How is it decorated? Do we have elements of cozy? Is it colourful? Would someone be able to walk into our space and be able to tell things about us based on our style and what we choose to display? Would they be able to tell who is important to us from our space?

When we look outside, what do we see? Are we able to bring elements of nature inside our home through colour or art? Are we able to enjoy our outdoor space? Is it inviting?

We can begin by exploring how the space around us makes us feel and from there make small decisions in order to bring about change (if needed.) Perhaps it begins by making living space neater, purging closets, painting a room. Perhaps we make plans to bring more colour to the yard, or set up some white lights to enjoy in the summer evenings.

Perhaps it is an inherent need to feel settled in our surroundings; for when the space around us feels good, we feel good.

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Taking on Our Unhelpful Thoughts

When we catch ourselves in negative or unhelpful thought, it isn’t always that easy to “just think positively.” It can sometimes lend itself to feeling inauthentic, as we strive to align with something we are struggling to feel.

What happens to us however is that what we attend to we bring to our experience. If we attend to the crummy weather forecast, for example, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for feeling blue if it isn’t what we hoped for. If we attend to judgement, complaints, injustices and weariness, we begin to feel the negative weight of those thoughts.

We begin by simply recognizing if our thought feels heavy, weighted. “Is it helpful?” “Can thinking this way create change? Growth?” If the answer is no, we move to more flexible thinking, something that will make the moment feel lighter. When we are able to create meaningful associations to thoughts, we are able to form a way of thinking that promotes self-reflection, growth and a more settled internal state.

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The Weight of Flexibility

We all have our moments when we adamantly believe that we are right. It may lean into our values, our morals, or because “it’s always been done that way.” Our convictions are a valuable part of us, they help to define who we are and often govern how we see the world. The significance of our opinions are often driven by our emotions, but where do our thoughts fit in?

If we lean into our opinions with adamant rigidity, we risk falling down into the rabbit hole of judgement; sometimes to the point of hypocrisy. We leave our loved ones feeling misunderstood and we risk their emotional withdrawal. We are better served to find flexibility to help carry the weight of the exchange. 

Being flexible doesn’t require that we give up our convictions; it simply means that we are open to listening; to understanding another’s position. When we can include flexibility, we validate our loved ones, opening up the space for healthier communication and the consequent strengthening of the relationship.

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A Way to Look at Purpose

We are all at times perplexed by the question of “What is my purpose?” It seems big; it feels like somehow it should be attached to something obvious. We are also led to believe that once we have discovered our purpose, complete and ultimate fulfillment and meaning will be ours.

Perhaps purpose isn’t fixed. Perhaps it isn’t meant to be so obvious. Perhaps we find it in all different stages of our lives, perhaps it is in the every day. Perhaps it is how we choose to live.

I find my purpose in the work I do as a therapist. Not because of the years of service behind me, or the amount of people I have helped, but by my intention to make a person’s experience matter in that moment. 

I find my purpose in being a mother. Some days that involved story time on the couch, other times it was found in the tucking in of bed. It is found in thoughtful intention.

I can find purpose when I hold a door open for someone, or smile at a stranger as we cross paths on the sidewalk. I can find purpose in my prayers, my aim to be kind, my aim to be inclusive, my aim to forgive.

Purpose needn’t be fixed. It can be effective, it can be free flowing, it can be intentional.

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3 Tips to Making Decisions

We can all struggle sometimes in making decisions. Sometimes this comes from our experiences growing up; being overprotected for example, can lead us to not feeling secure in our decision making skills. Perhaps we had a controlling parent who made our decisions for us; perhaps we had to make too many decisions as a child and it left us feeling uncomfortable with the process as an adult.

In our every day life we are faced with many choices, to varying degrees. Sometimes, we may wrestle with bigger issues such as whether to take a new job; other times we defer to someone else for something as simple as what movie to go see or what to have for dinner. In any case, the ability to make decisions is an empowering process; one that allows us to feel in control over our own choices, giving us a sense of agency. Here are three tips that can help in making decisions:

  1. Make a pros and cons list. This seems self-explanatory but the important bit here is to actually write it down. It allows you to gather information (making an informed decision makes us feel more confident), without spending copious amounts of time on it – we don’t want to lean into avoidance. Writing it down also allows us to use both sides of our brain; bringing both emotions and logic to the process.
  2. Bounce it off a friend. Friends are probably the most objective person outside of a therapist as they truly have your best interests at heart.  Grab a cup of coffee, your pros and cons list and chat away!
  3. Back up your instincts. Let’s face it, once we have gone through both a pros and cons list, and talked to a friend, we usually come to the same conclusion that we had in the very immediate moments of having to make up our mind. Our instincts are a valuable tool in helping us make decisions; challenging our self-doubts and creating positive affirmations about our instincts can help.

The art of making decisions is like anything else; sometimes we just need a sense of direction and practice. The end result is a sense of self-efficacy and confidence in our ability to work out the kinks, big or small.

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Chasing Happiness

Ever met someone who likes to blame the world for their troubles? Who often attributes luck as a contributing factor in their lives? Someone who tends to chase happiness; looking for that one thing that is going to make them feel satisfied? You may be interacting with someone with an external locus of control.

We know that when we have an overall sense of control over our lives, we have an increased sense of well-being; we have an influence over the direction of our lives. Our perception of where control lies, however, can have an impact on our behaviours, our experiences, the people in our lives and our environment. If we attribute our success or failures to outside influences, we lean towards having an external locus of control. We often feel helpless in the face of challenges and have a hard time giving ourselves credit for a job well done.

If we have an internal locus of control, we tend to have a stronger sense of self-efficacy, feel more confident when challenges come our way and are more likely to take responsibility for our behaviours.  As with everything, locus of control exists on a continnum; defining your locus of control is self-reflective and it provides us with the opportunity to challenge some of the ways we view our ability to have a sense of control over our lives. Moving us from chasing happiness to creating it.  

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Should I Get Diagnosed?

That is always a question that clients wrestle with at times. As a Registered Psychotherapist, I am not qualified to diagnose, yet I am able to recognize symptoms that are often indicative of an underlying mental illness. It is part of my job to suggest to the client the option of referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for diagnosis as a potential part of their treatment plan.

Getting diagnosed for some clients is validating; they finally have a name to what they have been experiencing and can recognize themselves in the listed symptoms. It can be an empowering process as they begin to read about their diagnosis, join support groups online and have an avenue to express their own struggle with it. Suddenly, it just all makes sense.

Other clients have experienced a diagnosis as a label they can’t shake. They can feel stigmatized and defined by their mental illness, becoming even more burdened by its mark.

Getting diagnosed is a choice afforded to a client; in either case, therapy’s greater aim is to treat the person. That includes their symptoms, but it also includes their competencies and strengths, their core beliefs, patterns, interests, what they are passionate about, their self-care regime, their coping strategies, their support system, their history, their story. As a therapist, I am ever mindful that with or without the diagnosis, It is the relationship that heals.

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