Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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Tante Ria

This is a tribute to my aunt. Tante Ria. She died last Monday. Peacefully. Trusting that she would enter Heavenly Paradise, and be welcomed in the house of her Father.

I am flying out today to attend her funeral.

I feel a deep sense of sadness and loss.

And more deeply than that, of gratitude and appreciation.

Image courtesy to creativecommons.org

She offered a warm, welcome home every Summer holiday for my sister and me. She organized fun events, exuberant barbecues (and even now, being a vegan, I enjoy thinking of those gatherings), and special activities. I always had such a sense of love, acceptance, belonging, appreciation, and delight, whenever I visited her house, at a time when I didn’t experience much of that in many other places.

She never talked about my troubles. She never asked about my pain. She just offered love and acceptance.

Teyber and McClure call that a restorative emotional experience. Through tante Ria I knew that love, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and joy were possible. Also for me.

We cannot always prevent children from feeling pain, hurt, loneliness. We can’t always repair the damage done by neglect, criticism, and ignorance. But we can always offer our open heart, welcoming hands, and radiant smile to let a child know how delighted we are that they are in our world.

Tante Ria, thank you, for inspiring me to bring out those qualities in myself for all the children and grown-ups in my life.

I love you.


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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” At least, that’s what Elton John sings.

Image courtesy to answers.yahoo.com“Sorry” seems to convey that there is something wrong with us, that we did something bad, and that -as a result of our action- we are unworthy of love, acceptance, and belonging. It is the beggar’s word in a one-up relationship, where I know what is good and what is bad, and decide whether you are good enough to be in the inside circle.

Sometimes this burden of self-incrimination turns into the opposite, and our “sorry!” becomes oblique, as we run out the door, leaving our spouse frustrated with our unwashed dishes and our stuff at the counter, with no intention to clean up after ourselves the next time we’re in a hurry.

It does not have to be this way.

Sorry can also reflect a profound self-reflective journey of looking inward and acknowledging the times we did not show up the way we wanted.

The ten days between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur invite us to this journey of self-connection and reflection on our transgressions against G*d, our fellow living beings, and ourselves.

I understand transgressions not in the legal way, but as a longing to awaken to our true nature of love, compassion, and mindfulness, and to our innate desire to contribute to the well-being of others, including ourselves.

Atonement is the process of restoring our at-one-ment, our interbeing.

Nonviolent Communication calls it the cycle of Mourning, Celebrating, and Learning. We ask ourselves which universal, human, precious needs were unmet with the behavior we now regret. And we ask ourselves which precious, human, universal needs we did meet -or were trying to meet- with the behavior we now regret. And in that process of looking deeply, understanding, and accepting our choices, we open up to learning different ways to nurture all those needs: the ones we met and the ones we didn’t meet. It is the process of connecting to our values and that what is most important to us: life and love.

When we approach the word “sorry” as an indication of our learning, as a sign that we realize our unskillfulness in pursuing our needs, without giving up our dignity and worthiness of love, acceptance, and belonging, it is the easiest word possible. It expresses that we are human beings who search, sometimes stumble, through life, looking for ways to honor our needs, those of others, and those of G*d. It indicates that we are not stuck in the past, wallowing in our regret, but that we open up to life and making more wholesome choices in the future.

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You want help to mourn, celebrate, and learn from actions you now regret? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Fear and veganism

Fear is being afraid of what’s gonna happen in the future. Fear is never about this moment. Jack Kornfield tells a beautiful story (at least I like it) in The Roots of Buddhist Psychology. A man goes camping. He sees footprints of a bear. He gets scared, because he is afraid he’ll be eaten by the bear. He starts worrying, even though he is fine in the moment. Then he sees the bear and starts running, scared of the anticipated pain he’ll feel, if the bear starts eating him. The bear runs after him, and indeed bites him. What the man feels in that moment is pain, hurt like hell, not fear. There is fear, but that  is not about the bite, it is about being eaten alive and dying. Something that might happen in the future. Fear is about an anticipated moment you dread in the future. Pain and hurt are what you feel as you experience this moment.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/Vegan_patties_with_potatoes_and_salad.jpgI dreaded holding on to my vegan diet when I went to the Netherlands. I feared non-belonging, critical questions, ridicule as I was eating differently than everyone else. I was afraid I would roll over into eating cheese, butter-filled cookies, and anything else that might contain eggs or dairy, as I soon as I thought my sense of acceptance, belonging, and understanding would not be met.

None of it happened.

My family and friends easily offered me vegan food or accepted me bringing my own dish so I had enough yummy food to eat. To my big surprise my aunt, who I don’t think ever considered veganism, even made a separate dish that completely supported my choices. My family ate my vegan dishes with joy and delight, even though some of it didn’t turn out as yummy as I had hoped. I felt joyful, enthusiastic and excited to offer my compassionate alternative as an invitation to understand how our own happiness and suffering are not separate from the happiness and suffering of animals. I felt proud to water the seeds of compassion and interbeing in each of my family and friends, and they received it for the acceptance I have for their meat-eating choices.

I have learned that eating vegan isn’t synonymous for exclusion, loneliness, and ridicule. It equals inspiration, integrity, and connection.

Hallelujah.

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You want help to offer your compassionate choices as an invitation to understand the interconnectness of our happiness and suffering? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Touching Toulouse in the ultimate dimension

Brutus to the left, Toulouse to the rightI’m reading “Opening the Heart of the Cosmos, insights on the Lotus Sutra” by Thich Nhat Hanh and learning about the historic and ultimate dimension.

The historic dimension is the reality as we know it in our current body and is bound by time and space. We are born, we live, we die. A car is manufactured, used and disassembled. A song is written, popular, and forgotten. There is a beginning, middle and end.

The ultimate dimension is the continuous flow of life, of unlimited being, of the one and the all.

Once we touch the ultimate dimension, we lose our fear of death, because we understand that we cannot die, that we were never born, that we have always been. Our present appearance is just one of the multitude manifestations of the ultimate dimension. A wave cannot die, it just returns to water, which it has been all along.

I don’t claim that I get it. I think if I did, I would be way more open, loving, and relaxed. I would be less anxious, jealous and angry.

And last night I realized that I am probably seeing a glimpse of the ultimate dimension in the loss of and continued connection with my cat: Toulouse.

She was my buddy, soul mate and Bodhisattva of unconditional acceptance, boundless love, and immeasurable appreciation. She followed me around the house, the garden, out on the street. She used any opportunity to jump on my lap, cuddle with me on the couch, crawl under the comforter and find her favorite spot in my arms.

I left her behind with my ex-husband, when I got a divorce and moved to the USA. I was heart-broken. Whenever I felt upset, I took her picture and held it to my heart. I’d fall asleep like that. Even now, five years later, I feel a raw, scourging pain in my stomach. She was the love of my life.

I went back to the Netherlands twice a year, and always visited my ex-husband and my two cats. As soon as I opened the door, she’d run up to me and claim my lap. She loved me as ever before. She never held a grudge that I had left her behind, as if she honored my choice, and accepted my departure.

The last time I saw her was December 2010. She could hardly walk, lost 10 pounds, and couldn’t get up on the couch.

My ex-husband took her to the vet Jan 21, 2011 to let her die.

I wasn’t there.

Despite all the grief, sadness and loss -that I even feel right now as I write about her- I feel this incredible joy of knowing that I never lost her. She is here with me,  right now. She is always available with her love, affection, and acceptance. Her appreciation never died.

I understand it better now.

I am touching Toulouse in the ultimate dimension.


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Fully wanting to be you

Image courtesy to Flickr“It takes courage to love yourself. It is easier to hate yourself. To always want to improve and change for the better. To never be satisfied with who you are right here, right now. But to fully say ‘yes’ to whatever is here, your anger, your fear of failure, your striving for perfection, that takes courage. You’re trembling in the nakedness of your honesty and you’re fully wanting to be you. I’m fully wanting to be me. Yes, that takes courage.”

I’m in awe with my client. I’m not sure if I have the courage to be fully wanting to be me. I rather be someone else. Happier. More successful. Less jealous. I’m pretty sure I’m fully wanting to be my future self, an improved version of me. Less needy, more lovable.

I’m in awe with my client, and her choice to unconditionally love and accept herself.

I’m in awe with my client and her choice to say ‘yes’ to who she is in this moment.

She reminds me of the ferryman in Herman Hesse’s Siddharta. He doesn’t do much. He tends his garden, he enjoys the sun, he takes people to the other side of the river. Hardly anyone recognize in him the Buddha, the Enlightened One. Hardly anyone even look at him. They just want to get to the other shore, and he is taking them. He is an instrument to their purpose, and as such not very interesting.

I have always been impressed with that courage. To just live your life, not doing much, not striving for acknowledgment, validation, reassurance of your worth. And fully enjoying being alive. Gosh, if I only would have that solidity in me, that groundedness, that self-confidence.

I giggle. That seems like a contradictio in terminis. Wanting to be someone else, so I can fully want to be me.

Hum. Maybe I could start wanting to be me with all my striving for love, acceptance and belonging?

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You want help to fully want to be you? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to help you on the path of unconditional self-acceptance.


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Self-compassion when we are suffering

Listening to the bell, I feel my afflictions

begin to dissolve.

My mind is calm, my body relaxed.

A smile is born on my lips.

Following the bell’s sound,

my breathing guides me back

to the safe island of mindfulness.

In the garden of my heart,

the flower of peace blooms beautifully.

Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Great Bell Chant, Youtube

Image courtesy to FlickrI sit on my meditation cushion. I breathe in and feel my somberness, my listlessness, my lack of purpose and meaning. Who cares whether I live or die? I’m not sure I do. Do I even like my life? I don’t know. Do I even like myself? I don’t think so.

A wave of shock rushes through me.

I would never talk to my clients, my friends like that. I would never judge them as losers, failures, nobodies, when they experience this much despair, this much existential fear and sadness.

I would sit with them, listen carefully, opening up to their pain. I would embrace their suffering with compassion, letting them know that I am here for them. My heart would soften as I listen to their despair, their struggles.

I feel tender as I see myself sit on my cushion. A woman with such a sincere intention to contribute, to relief suffering, to bring joy, love and harmony. A woman who’s just trying, really trying and sometimes feels overwhelmed by her inner demons. Her sadness and despair, her regrets and sorrows.

This woman doesn’t need disapproval and rejection. This woman needs a tender, loving embrace. Someone who tells her how special she is and how much happier their life is with her in it. I feel a tenderness growing. Like a little daffodil, arising from the dark earth into the sunny meadow.

I can do that. I can hold myself with that gentle love, accepting all parts of me.

A smile is born on my face.

I don’t have to be happy and cheerful all the time. I can accept myself as I am, right now. And in that tender, safe embrace the flower of peace blooms in my heart.

—–

You want help to embrace all parts within yourself? To bring loving-kindness to yourself, because it is such a miracle that you’re here? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a complimentary, discovery session. I would be honored to help you bring self-acceptance and compassion to yourself.


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We need compassion when we’re angry, not punishment

Listening to your anger

My client suffers from road rage. Her rides turn into anger, yelling and frustration. She arrives upset and disturbed.

Anger impacts her relationships too.

She wants my help to deal with her anger more mindfully.

In a visualization exercise she asks her anger what it is about, and what it wants from her, so that it can relax and let her live her life grounded in her values. She asks her resistance against the anger the same questions.

She cries when she opens her eyes. “I need an outlet. I have so much anger in me. My childhood was drenched in anger and yelling. It was the only communication in my family.”

“Did anyone ever walk up to you, when you were angry? Did anyone ever stretch out their arms to you, when you were throwing a fit, and tell you ‘I’m here for you. I see how angry you are. I won’t go away. You matter to me.’ Did anyone ever just sit with you, creating a safe space where you could experience your anger and maintain connection?

She looks at me bewildered. “No! I was punished and sent to my room.”

Even now she thinks that that is the only reasonable response to anger. To express your anger with yelling and throwing a fit is childish.

“It is not childish. It is your child. It is the little child within you that cannot think of any other way to be heard. It is your inner child that desperately wants help for her suffering and longing.”

She looks at me bewildered, again. She had never even thought about her anger this way.

“When you think of yourself as this little child, maybe two years old, ‘throwing a fit to get her way’, what do you think she actually wanted?” “Attention.” “And if she would get attention, what precious need would be fulfilled?” “Belonging”, she says, with tears in her eyes.

We just want to belong

Just to know that you belong. That you matter. That someone cares about you, and wants to include you.

Such a beautiful, simple need.

How can we be angry with ourselves when we scream and yell in our despair, because we don’t know any other way to ask for help? How can we judge ourselves because we so desperately want to belong, to be seen, to matter?

We don’t need labels, judgments,punishment when we scream and yell. We need compassion. We need someone to stretch out their arms to us and tell us “I’m here to help. I’ll stay as long as you need. You matter. To me.”

That is the only way to heal. Ourselves. The world. Let us stretch out our arms to each other and say “I’m here for you. How can I help?”

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Contact me if you want my help to deal with your anger more mindfully 512-589-0482.


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Stand your feelings: the only way out is through

MindfulnessMindfulness is not for the weak of heart

Waking up this morning, I smile,

twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment,

and to look at beings with eyes of compassion.

It couldn’t have been more untrue. I wake up tired, discouraged, somber and listless. I am willing to look at beings with eyes of compassion, but the commitment is feeble.

I wished it were different. I wished I was energetic, positive, enthusiastic, bubbly with life.

I’m not. And all the meditation and mindfulness in the world won’t change that. And that’s not what they are for. They are not tools to guarantee eternal happiness. They are not tools to never feel miserable again. On the contrary, mindfulness will bring you back to the astounding realization how miserable you feel. There is no hiding, no distraction, no cover up. You sit on your cushion and you feel your own restlessness, you drive your care and you notice how impatient you are, you feel hurt and you hear yourself scream.

Embrace your feelings with love and compassion

If anything, mindfulness brings immense clarity to what you’re actually experiencing in this moment. What your life is about right now. And it is a fantastic tool to stand these feelings. To let them penetrate you. To let them tell you what it is like to be a human being, to be you. Mindfulness helps you to feel all these human feelings with more love and understanding. “Oh, that’s what it is like to feel lonely, envious, enraged.” Whatever feeling consumes you. Mindfulness helps you to stand them. To bring some love and compassion to them. To listen to them as if they are your beloved children, long, long forgotten. They bang at your door, force their way through, and all they want is you to listen. Just listen. How scared they are, how sad, how angry. How they don’t want to feel scared, sad, angry. How they want you to help them, hold them, embrace them. And all you need to do is sit and listen. Give them space, give them some love.

And you know what? If you sit down with them and listen, they will calm down. They have been heard. That is all they wanted. They want to tell you what they need. A beautiful, precious, human need. Maybe some reassurance, some warmth, some help. And they ask you to look for ways to nurture those needs.

That’s where mindfulness meets Nonviolent Communication. I can’t think of a better combination.

Yes, I smile. I vow to look at beings with eyes of compassion. I start with myself.

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Contact me at 512-589-0482 if you want to see how I can help you stand your feelings.


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Isn’t it wonderful to have a community?

CommunityA community that supports you in your practice, and encourages and inspires you to continue your efforts? A community that shares the same values and aspirations? Whether it is your AA, my weightlifting, our Sangha, their church, his soccer club, any community that celebrates your successes and your failures is wonderful.

Thich Nhat Hanh once said that the next Buddha is not gonna be an individual, it’s gonna be a Sangha. A community that awakens to enlightenment and helps relieve suffering.

The essence of community is a sense of belonging

For me belonging means that, however I show up, I am seen and accepted for who I am. I find that in my Sangha. Whether I come in grumpy, irritated, peaceful, happy, sad, lonely or scared, I always receive the same kind of love and welcome. It is even irrelevant who is there. It is the Sangha as a body, that bids me welcome. This welcoming is not limited to me, everyone who shows up is greeted with the same level of warmth. Whether you have ADHD, mental health challenges, alcoholic issues, struggles in your marriage, failing grades at school, whether you are black, brown or white, young or old: everyone is embraced with the same kind of excitement, just because they show up to practice together.

Strong communities support autonomy

There is more to strong communities. Yesterday I wrote about differentiation. The ability to balance your needs for togetherness and autonomy.

I claim that our Sangha is differentiated.

This morning I talked with Nhu-Mai about my intention to become an aspirant member of the Order of Interbeing. She encouraged me to use my time as an aspirant member to check in with myself whether being a member of the Order of Interbeing really resonates with me. Whether that is my heart’s desire, and honors the flow of my life. She told me that there is no shame, no punishment, no exclusion if I realize during my period as an aspirant member I don’t want to be ordained. My clarity will be celebrated. Whether the clarity is that I don’t want to commit, or do want to commit, I will belong and accepted.

I feel touched and impressed.

I am part of a community where my need for togetherness is nurtured, and my need for autonomy.

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Contact me if you want to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help you with your practice 512-589-0482


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Compassion for our jealousy

HumanityA letter from my jealousy to me

“Dear Elly,

I am so sorry I exist. I wished I had never been born. I see how much pain I bring to your life, and I certainly see the havoc I create when I go berserk.

I often do.

I wished I didn’t.

I wished I could ask for help, when I feel hurt and scared your husband will leave you for a better version of you: bigger boobies, flatter belly, more compassionate. I wished I could ask for help, when I feel scared and upset because your colleagues in Nonviolent Communication get more ‘likes’, participants and acknowledgment.

I don’t.

I feel ashamed and desperate that I am ruining your life the way I do. On so many occasions. I do try to hide as much as I can, but sometimes something overwhelms me and I need to get out of the closet and smash everything to pieces. I don’t know why. Forgive me. I know how ugly and disgusting my face is.

Jealousy”

A letter from me to my jealousy

“Dear Jealousy,

I feel so touched and moved as I read your letter. I feel tears in my eyes and tender with love. There is nothing to ask forgiveness for, my sweet child. Nothing.

I didn’t take good care of you. I locked you away in the closet, because I was afraid that I would be rejected if someone saw you. I so desperately want acceptance, that I don’t want to jeopardize that, even a little bit. I have always been sure that you were a liability to that need.

I see I was wrong.

I am so sorry for all the pain I created. I am so sorry.

I won’t lock you behind bars anymore. I want you out in the sun. I want you here with me and see your pretty face.

Will you go for a walk with me this afternoon? Maybe we can talk about how we can support each others’ need for acceptance? I would love to.

Elly”

Shared humanity

Jealousy says ‘yes’. We spend the long walk talking about our needs for love, belonging, acceptance. For who we are, not for what we do or what we have. We hold hands, and come home happy. We see the shared humanity in each others’ behavior, and these all too understandable needs for love and acceptance.

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You want help to embrace your jealousy with compassion? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session 512-589-0482