These days I just giggle to myself when people still carry the notion that folks with autism aren’t socially connected or lack empathy.  Some of the most sensitive and socially observant people I know are on the autism spectrum.  This video is made by a guy with autism explaining to neurotypicals why we just might be the oddballs.  Spot.  On.


Emotions on Vacation

May 21, 2013

Flight Risk

Much to the endless amusement of my sister, I am afraid of flying.  It’s gotten a lot better over the years but on a recent flight I was more nervous than I have been in a long time.  Before we pushed back from the gate I kept hearing the wings make a jarring mechanical sound followed by an alarm sound.  Over and over.  And over.  I did what I needed to do to keep myself from jumping out of my seat and running out the door.  Eventually I was able to convince myself that the pilots had figured out whatever was triggering the alarm sound.  No more alarm and we were ready to push back.  But then just as we were getting ready to take off the sound happened once more.  All efforts to remain calm were lost.  I looked over at the middle aged man sitting next to me to see if I might be able to make some comment and have something reassuring said in reply.  Instead I got a brush off as he returned to reading his men’s magazine.  I glanced down to see what he was reading.  The article featured a photo of a man’s cut torso from neck to just below the hipbone.  From either side of his chest a woman’s well-manicured hands were caressing his body.  The accompanying article was explaining how to get the abs women swoon over, which apparently took precedent over acknowledging the person in the seat next to him.

That’s all it took.  My judging mind was out of the gate and sprinting down the track.  Here was this jerk face who was happy to objectify women but not talk to them, he has a wedding ring his poor wife must be so lonely, I bet he has a female assistant and he is a jerk to her too, a Guy Like That has never known anything but privilege, and how much time each day is spent working on his body while his poor mind is left unexamined, reading this magazine he is just grooming himself to perpetuate the hurt in our culture….

And on and on.  At least the judging sprint kept me somewhat distracted from takeoff.

Learn To Fly

Once in the air and settled into a good book I could feel the worry begin to fade out of my body and mind.  And with this receding of worry there seemed to be a corresponding pulling back out from my myopic concern with myself to see things a little more clearly.  I was coming home from a trip that had been hard for me.  Here we all were on the plane, coming or going somewhere that is taking us out of our daily routines.  It occurred to me that walking through the airport I must have seen someone who was preoccupied with concern for a loved one who was very ill.  Or perhaps they in fact were the one who had just been given a scary diagnosis.   Or perhaps they were feeling the pain of loving someone who can’t love them back.  I felt my heart soften a bit.  How many people we see every day – at the grocery store, the bank – and we walk past each other completely unaware of when someone might be awash with grief or fear or loneliness.  How easy it is to see someone’s outsides and think we know something about their insides.  What funny illusions exist between the space of what we can see of someone’s external being and their internal experience.

And yes.  Then I made the connection – although much more slowly than you might expect.  I didn’t know the first thing about the guy next to me.  Maybe he just lost the love of his life, maybe reading a men’s magazine is his moment of escape, maybe he really is preoccupied with having a perfect body in which case I only have sympathy for him also being hurt by our culture.   The only thing I can know for certain is that I will never know his story, but I know he is a human with a beating heart and that should be enough for me to see him with my heart soft and my mind clear of assumptions.

Epilogue:  Don’t Mix the Paint

I could stop writing here, but there is an epilogue to this post.  I knew I was experiencing more unpleasant emotions than usual and it was a rookie move to not be frequently checking in and asking myself what I was feeling.  Bringing awareness to my emotional experiences would have let me see my situation with more clarity.   By the time I looked at that man’s magazine, I had at least a dozen emotionally charged experiences coloring my perceptions.  I could have been aware of the dozen different colors in my painting that day.  Instead it was as if all the colors had just blended together into a dull brown haze.  In this haze I became stuck in my own story.

It can be so tempting to ignore feelings when they are unpleasant.  But it is precisely these moments when it is most important to check in with yourself.  Stop and take a slow breathe.  What do you feel in your body?  That thoughts are in your mind?  Pull out a list of emotions if you need to (anyone who works with me knows I do this all the time in my practice).  And then?  Don’t judge.  Don’t push the feeling away – that’s a futile effort anyway.  Instead slow down for a few minutes and give yourself some company.  Perhaps try saying Sylvia Bornstein’s compassionate phrase to yourself:  “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.”  (I highly recommend you read this full explanation of that phrase.)  See the color for what it is, and know that it can just be there.  Many more colors are yet to come.

Smile File, part deux

April 29, 2013

Completely unrelated to my earlier post, I just came across this little guy today.  So adorable my toes ache watching this!

Smile File*

April 29, 2013

Interspecies Love and Christian the Lion

Have you seen this one already?  It makes me feel all sorts of positive emotions every time I see it.  But be warned if you haven’t seen this before – yes, you may smile but you may also feel your heart swell with love and compassion and awe.  Eyes have been known to get leaky.

We are just one note in the vast harmony of existence but the grind of our daily lives can leave us only hearing our lone tune.  Well-being rests upon the wisdom that we are part of something much greater.  One of the surest ways for me to add some positive experiences to my day – and to help me remember that my note is just one in billion zillion – is to see a story about connection between species.  It almost feels like these stories get processed differently in my brain – bypassing my often annoyingly active reason mind and going straight to the seat of wisdom and compassion.

One mention about the tortoise and young hippo becoming friends or a quick look through this tumblr page and my mind relaxes a bit, comforted in remembering that life is so much more complicated, interconnected, and full of wonder than we will ever be able to see with just our eyes alone.  This story about Christian the Lion is one of my favorites.


*To learn about the benefits of introducing positive emotions into our everyday lives, visit Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s lab webpage.   This is just one small example.  Please remember.  I am not suggesting to ignore uncomfortable emotions.   We need them too!  What I am suggesting is that we can seek out experiences that might add a smile, even when we are in pain.

Authenticity Advice from A Vulcan

Long before Brene Brown came on the scene, Dr. Spock (okay, Leonard Nimoy) was on making the case for connection with others starting by letting go of who we want to be and embracing who we are.

spock advice 1

spock advice 2

The Only Way Is Love

February 14, 2013

Lynne Hurdle-Price at TEDx-Women 2012

It seems fitting to share this post on Valentine’s Day, a holiday that can be so distracting from what love really is.  Starting my morning with this talk felt like a serendipitously poetic antidote to the trappings of this holiday.

Lynne Hurdle-Price starts strong and ends stronger.  While this talk is about bodies, it is also about something much bigger and profound. If you happen to be human then this talk is well worth watching through.

I want this woman to be my friend.  And dance partner.

We See What We Look For

January 20, 2013

Suffering Exists, And So Does Something Much Bigger

This video shows a crowd spontaneously breaking out into song after being trapped in a tunnel for three and a half hours.  The song, fittingly, is “Lean On Me.”  This video gives me goosebumps.  It is such a beautiful example of human nature. The world is such a complicated place, full of more beauty and heartache then we could ever see in our own lifetime.  When we let ourselves sit in our fears and anxieties then our view narrows to only see the sources of our fear and anxiety, thus causing us to feel even more scared and anxious.

We must take personal responsibility to widen our range of view…  to see more.  I am not saying to deny that pain is in the world.  Of course it is, and denying its presence would be futile.  But look for the beauty that is also there.  So often it is the very sources of human suffering that becomes the soil for the growth of beauty, compassion, and connection.

Buddhist Wisdom From Mr. Rogers’ Mom

Mr. Rogers has said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”  Don’t close your eyes to the truth of the world.  We HAVE to see the suffering that exists in order to grow our compassion and connection with others.  But don’t dwell on the suffering.  Pull back and also be open to seeing the human impulse for kindness that will also be there.  Looking for and finding these kindnesses are like finding glimpses into a warm light shining through cracks in the wall.  That light that comes from the place deep within each of us, who all seek to love, to be loved, to belong to something bigger than just our single story.  The world is full of suffering.  And it is also full of beauty. To be fully present we must be open to seeing both.


January 18, 2013

It’s so easy to forget to that at any moment we can give ourselves the gift of slowing down, looking around, and remembering the fact that it is a miracle that any of us are even here at all.  Ask yourself, what are you grateful for in this moment?  Look around you.  Smell the air.  Forget the big stuff.  Some of the best sources of gratitude live in the smallest parts of our lives.

Also, the little girl at the beginning of this video makes my eyes get all leaky.  She is too much!

The Most Blunderful Time of the Year

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is almost here.  While the holiday season seems to sneak up on me every year, I feel particularly ambushed this year.  Perhaps this feeling is due to the combination of a late summer heat wave, a distracting election, and an early Thanksgiving.  Or perhaps it is because I just feel this way every year.  In any case there is no denying that the Holiday Season will soon descend upon us.

It’s no secret that the holiday season can be tough on our emotions.   As many of us prepare for upcoming visits with family and old friends I thought it might be a good time to talk about the DBT skill of distress tolerance.  Distress tolerance starts with the understanding that some times are just tough.  Our goal is to just get through the moment without doing something to make it worse.

So the “skill” of distress tolerance has two parts:  first we must understand the situation, and then we can do something to make it through the situation.   Now I know some of you eager beavers want to get right to the second part of distress tolerance and talk about what we can DO.  But hold on just one moment.  Let’s back up.  I really, truly, deeply believe that the first part of distress tolerance is 70% of the skill.

Pain + Resistance = Suffering

Let’s look at this first part more closely.  Put another way, the first part is saying some situations just suck.  Now don’t let any judgment sneak in there.  This is just a fact of life.  Drop those ideas like you caused the situation, or you are a victim of the situation.  It just is what it is.  In Buddhism this fact is known as one of the eight vicissitudes of life (see “Basic Concepts” in this link to learn more).  Every life has moments that suck.  Although Buddhism traditionally describes unpleasant moments using words like “painful” rather than “sucking.”  When I hear “painful” I think about stubbing a toe.  Personally, I am better at finding these moments in my own life when I describe them as just sucking.

You aren’t alone if you don’t like the idea that we should accept painful experiences.  That word “accept” can be so hard to …  well…  accept.  Our silly culture has told us that accepting a situation is deciding we are helpless to change it.   But this is just completely inaccurate.  Completely 100% not what I am saying.  We have to rearrange our understanding of the words “accept” and “resist” to understand how acceptance can decreasing our suffering and help us move forward.  Yes – we NEED acceptance to move forward.  It is the very act of not accepting a sucky situation that often keeps us stuck in that situation.

When we fight the truth of painful moments, our struggle sticks us to the pain like flies on flypaper, thus adding suffering.  When we can accept the truth, our body and mind can stop the struggle and find the space needed to help us through the pain.


Observing Our Resistance Un-fuses Us From Suffering. 

So hopefully I have your buy in that acceptance is a critical step in distress tolerance.  But we still are talking in the abstract.  Having spoken with many people on my couch about this concept, I’ve seen that we usually get the fact that some times in our lives are just going to stink.  But when we are actually IN one of those painful times we completely forget that this pain is just part of the journey. When a painful moment is revealed in the form of a tense Thanksgiving meal with our relatives we suddenly lose all wisdom.  As pain arises we reflexively reach for the pie, or wine bottle, or worse to fight the painful feelings that arise.   Right there!  That’s it.  That pushing away of pain is the moment of fusing yourself to it like a fly flinging itself onto the flypaper. Recognizing when that moment happens is where 70% of the distress tolerance occurs.

Watch for the moment when you first register that something sucky is occurring and resistance arises.  For example, what usually sets you off about the Thanksgiving holiday?  Perhaps it is the long drive, perhaps it is the pre-dinner conversation with your great-uncle, perhaps it is just being out of your routine (I’m looking at you here, Frances).  Observe the resistance to pain that has become a reflex within you.  It can be hard to find at first because resisting pain can become an overlearned skill that is hard to see (like riding a bike).  But you will find it with practice.  The resistance might come in body sensations like a stomachache, tensing muscles, wringing of hands.  The resistance might come in your thoughts becoming more judgmental or rigid (Thoughts like “Why can’t Aunt Winthrop keep her mouth shut!” or “Why do I come here every year when I know my dad will just ridicule me…”).

Don’t resist these reactions to pain.  Resisting the resistance just compounds our suffering!  Instead, observe.  “My stomach is tight because I am worried Aunt Winthrop will bring up the election with Cousin Patchouli.”  Take a deep slow breath.   That’s not figurative.  ACTUALLY take a slow deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  And perhaps even allow yourself a little smile knowing you have done the hard work of finding your resistance.   Congratulations! Now we get to the DOING part of distress tolerance.

Distress Tolerance Tool Kit  

Now that you’ve done the hard work of finding your resistance it’s time to choose what you are going to do to get through the moment without making it worse.  Note how I didn’t say, “make it better.”  Distress tolerance teaches us the wisdom that some times just suck and making it better is not in our control.  What is in our control is choosing what we are going to do to help ourselves get through the situation without making it worse.  So this year instead of jumping in to referee between those relatives that argue every year (which never makes them stop and just makes you feel more angry and helpless), let’s review some other things that you can do.

Here are some of my favorites:

  •  Breathe.  ALWAYS start by taking a deep breath.
  • Take a ten minute walk outside, noticing all the scene around you.  Can you see the breeze going through the trees?  What are the colors around you?
  • Play 54321.  Take a moment to:

SEE FIVE things around you. (I generally like to choose a color or shape to direct my attention on something)

HEAR FOUR things around you.

FEEL THREE things around you. (Don’t just use your hands.  What do you feel with your skin?  Feel your toes warm in their socks.  Feel your back pressed against the chair.)

SMELL TWO things around you. (Even just sniffing your shirt discreetly counts.)

TASTE ONE thing around you. (Or at least just direct your attention to your tongue.  Is there any taste to be found?)

I love this game because it can be done around others without them knowing you are doing it.  And this can be done over and over if needed.  And redirecting our attention to the very smallest details of the present moment is a great antidote to getting stuck in our suffering.

  •  Draw a mandala on your napkin.  This is a great activity to keep your hands and your mind occupied.

  • Slip away from ten minutes and use your phone to visit some of these sites:
  • Make your own soothing soundtrack.  Add exactly what you want to hear in your nature background.  Slight rain with some waves in the background, seagulls in the mountains – it’s up to you.

  • Be transported randomly anywhere around the world.  This website randomly chooses street views from google maps.  You can choose which continent or continents you’d like to see.  Even Antarctica.

  • Towards the bottom of this page there are great multiplication games to keep your mind occupied, like flying a plane through the clouds to answer multiplication questions.

  •  Who doesn’t want to look at pictures of cuddly animals – kittens, puppies, and more.

Play around and find what works for you – be creative.  Try to get at least three options that you can use the next time you feel like the pain of a situation is getting too big.

Just One Starfish in the Sea

When we are in pain we can get caught up in our own stories.  So I’ll leave you with this thought.  Remember that you are just one little being on this great big planet.  Every being is just doing their best with what they know.  No matter what you are doing, meanwhile there are starfish crawling over the ocean floor, baby birds hatching, killer whales teaching their young how to hunt, arctic foxes feeling the wind in their fur, and somewhere otters are asleep holding hands.  Each of our lives is just one teeny tiny thread in the great tapestry of life.  And hopefully you now have a little more skill to get through some of the tougher parts of your contribution to the tapestry.

Happy Birthday, Me!

It’s my birthday today, and I’m one of the rare people I know who actually likes birthdays.  So yay!  Happy day to me!  It’s funny to me that at some unspecified point – after you can get your drivers license and before you are old enough to run for congress – people stop asking you how old you are.  Or they may ask in a hushed and somber tone, “May I ask …?”  At least I have seen this habit with the women in my life.  It seems to be somewhat less true for men.

People, I am 35 years old today.  I earned every darn year and age spot that I have thus far, and hope to get many more behind me before I’m done. (Well, more years.  And I can accept that age spots are part of the package.)  I appreciate why folks aren’t always comfortable sharing their age, especially if they happen to be an actress in Hollywood over the age of twelve trying to get a job.  For some reason I’ve never felt the need to be demure about it.  Perhaps it’s because I was always somewhat of a pipsqueak growing up and I couldn’t wait to tell someone proudly that I was in fact 13, not 12.  Over the years it just became reflexive to say my age.  Just as it seems reflexive to so many people I know to keep quiet about it.  So please understand that I am not saying I am better than anyone for being so open about my age.  It’s just a quirk about me, one of the zillion things that makes me who I am.  And with this quirk I have a heightened awareness about this funny cultural practice of hiding our age like that family secret about the dog going to live on the farm.

Over the years, when I would respond to the question about my age I would add, “Oh, I don’t mind telling you.”  And oh the responses I have gotten…

“Well that’s because you are still young.  You’ll change.”

“If I were old enough I would also say it, too. I’m so embarrassed being so young at this job.”

“Well, good for you.  That’s brave, I guess.”

Consider the Alternative

People, any chance we can stop acting like it’s cute to not say our age?  It has become an unexamined habit that sends unintended messages.

By not sharing our age, are we implying to those coming up behind us that there is something wrong with our continued existence?  Are we embarrassed that we dare to still draw breath after our first gray hair?  Or that there is more value in one age than another?   You couldn’t convince me to be 23 again for all the free shoes in the world.  I’m glad to have done it, but what a confusing time!

Age is what it is.  As we get older, our stories grow more complicated, filled with joys, and fill with regrets.  There is no way around it.  But here we all are.  We are all on this journey together.  And as trite as the next thing may be, I always get tickled by remembering that each and every one of us has never been this old before.  Everyone is new to the age they are now.  With each age and stage, things shift.  Some things get easier.  Some things get harder.  But that’s the deal.  Almost everyone who has ever had the chance to live is no longer here.  And here we all are, a beautiful mix of ages and faces and bodies and dreams and hopes and challenges and even the occasional moment of joy.  Life is complicated.  That is the nature of the journey.  And even if the journey feels just too much at times take comfort in knowing that this too shall pass.  For now, perhaps try to enjoy knowing that today is one more day that you can take a slow deep breath, hear the birds singing outside, and try again.

So happy birthday to me.  And a very happy unbirthday to you, unless you happen to be Richard Gere, Debbie Gibson, or my mom (Happy Birthday, mom).

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