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Filtering by Category: Scott Lilleston

Mindful Compassion for a Healthier Social System

Scott Lilleston

It’s important to realize how much our economics, politics, business models, social media, entertainment, and education systems influence our minds. For better or worse, our individual lives are always intertwined with a greater collective system.

Our social system conditions  us to behave in particular ways. Unfortunately, this very patterning can trap us to conform to certain norms that aren’t within our own value system. In this way, we may end up feeling disempowered and out of control.

In Western society, the drive to consume and achieve individual sovereignty, rather than work towards collective goals, tends to be overdeveloped. In many ways, this leads to feelings of dis-ease, stress and isolation. Our innate drive for social connectedness and well-being can often take a back seat.

Understanding our emotion driven tendencies in the context of these systems empowers us to “get to know ourselves” so that we can operate more consciously and relate to one another better.

Consider our enormous drive to be accepted, approved of, valued, esteemed, desired, wanted, and loved; and on the other hand, to avoid being criticized, shamed, rejected, or forgotten. For the majority of us, social drives and needs are at the core of our sense of self. These are what motivate us.

As social creatures, we love to do things together; to become a “we” and not just a “me.” Forming groups that share interests and values is very important to develop a sense of security and belonging. Naturally, there is a downside to groups as well. Groups can become aggressive, competitive, and exclusive. The tendency to easily form into groups and then be aggressive toward “non-group” people is a dangerous bias. Evolution, after all, has designed our brains to be sensitive towards those who are a part of our group, and push away those who are not.

The key question is: Are we happy to just do what our brains seem to tell us to do?

Once we recognize that we do have the power of choice, we can begin to apply mindful compassion to work against that bias in order to genuinely live a more inclusive and gratifying life. Mindful compassion allows us to more clearly see where we get “caught” in life by pre-existing social systems that we don’t agree with. It is about seeking the truth of how we create suffering within our own minds and thus the suffering of the social systems we live in.

When we become wiser about our own suffering we can then begin to alleviate and prevent it in oneself and others.

When we lack mindfulness and compassion, we simply go along with society’s norms, because this is what our mind is driven to do. By applying mindful compassion we move from working only for personal benefit to considering the greater collective.

It is absolutely critical, however, that compassion is employed simultaneous to mindfulness because it allows us to deeply understand the trap. In this way, we can begin to courageously build the kind of society we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.

Where Identity Intersects with Mental Health

Scott Lilleston

A growing trend in the mental health world is the exploration of intersecting identities, and how discrimination based on these identities impacts one’s mental health.

In my own practice, I have become passionate about helping those with intersecting identities and finding ways to heal internalized systemic oppression. Particularly those who experience an intersection of marginalized identities, such as a Latino lesbian woman, or a transgender Jewish man.

Intersectionality is defined as the intersection between groups of oppressed peoples. Each one of us has multiple identities that have been shaped by historical and social relations, and different combinations of these identities produce their own oppressions.

We can use the framework of intersectionality to understand how social identities, when they overlap, relate to systems of oppression, domination, and discrimination. Intersecting identities include gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, social class, ethnicity, age, mental and physical disability, as well as other forms of identity. These aspects of identity are never mutually exclusive or unitary, but rather act in reciprocal ways. We often think of elements or traits of a person as inextricably linked, essential to forming one’s whole identity.

Intersectionality is a useful framework in not only understanding how systemic injustice and social inequality works on a larger, multidimensional scale, but also how that impacts an individual’s mental health.

One of the most glaringly overt examples of how gendered identities shapes our mental health is the link between anxiety and depression and the pressure on men to conform to “hegemonic masculinity,” or the notion that a real man is always strong, resilient, and invulnerable. Emotional openness and vulnerability is then perceived as “unmanly” or weak.

We see how the LGBTQ community is deeply impacted by the effects of oppression and discrimination in our society in which mental illness is particularly high. In particular, transgendered people have one of the highest rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide of all marginalized populations.

When we look at the high rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and violence that happens in marginalized populations, the link between between identity and mental health is glaringly obvious.

Intersectionality proposes that that all aspects of one’s identity must be examined simultaneous to the other aspects: each of these identities affects one’s privilege and perception within society. In this way, intersectionality can never be viewed as a personal identity, but rather an overarching analysis of power hierarchies that exist within identities.

As a practitioner, I am curious about the impact of intersectionality on individual mental health, because within each of us are often a multitude of identities…discovering how overt and covert forms of oppression and discrimination affect our lives on a personal level—and therefore our emotional and psychological well-being—can be immensely helpful and supportive in our own journey towards health.

Scheduling Solitude

Scott Lilleston

Our culture tends to view solitude as negative.

Solitude often carries a social stigma that implies isolation and loneliness. But solitude isn’t the same as isolation. The perceived sense of isolation seems to imply that being on one’s own is not a choice, but rather a character weakness when an individual disengages socially. Of course there are times when people experience social anxiety and feel withdrawn. But solitude is quite different. It’s an active choice to retreat inwards to restore from the activity of the world.

Unlike solitude, loneliness implies that you feel as if something is missing and you need it in order to feel secure and happy. States of loneliness can actually lead to panic attacks or depression, because there is often a void in a person’s life that can create an existential threat.

Loneliness is typically a triggering experience, such as a reminder of abandonment. Solitude, usually generates a sense of peace. Although learning to explore solitude may be scary for some in the beginning, it will most likely serve as a cornerstone for relaxation and development.

Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.

Solitude is something you choose.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

Solitude restores body and mind.

Taking this type of down time allows us to drop our “social guards.” It is an opportunity to listen to our intuition, make better choices and take advantage of our inner guidance and wisdom. Solitude is an opportunity to see where we are swayed by external influences, such as belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors that make up our social sphere.

Learning how to be alone is essential in knowing what one wants in relationship. It is nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship when one is unable to be alone with him or herself.

The first relationship we must start with is the one we have with ourselves.

I propose that you give yourself the gift of your own time and energy. You are worth it.

In today's connected world, practicing solitude seems to be a lost art. Yet it is essential that we do not forget that solitude is necessary and healthy. The physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone serve as powerful evidence.

Post Election Support

Scott Lilleston

The events of this year’s election have shaken many of us to the core.

The intensity of emotions we are experiencing are confusing, at times painful, and very real. Many people have been deeply impacted in a wide variety of ways.

I know that for me and many of my clients, one of the greatest challenges has been staying in relationship with friends and family who have differing opinions from our own. This is one of the areas that I am working on with a number of clients these days—the practice of taking care of ourselves in the after-effects of the election.

If you feel that you are grieving, it is essential to take very good care of yourself. Sometimes taking care of yourself can mean staying away from triggering people and situations. Check in and see what boundaries you need to hold when surrounded by those with differing opinions from you.

It is important, though, to remember that “Contact is the appreciation of differences,” as famed Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls says. And later Gestalt thought leader, Dick Price, adds, “And recognition of similarities.” This can be quite helpful for us to keep in mind when we enter into conversation with those who have differing views from our own.

It helps to keep a curious and open mind when entering such conversations. Imagine how diverse opinions can ultimately help us find compassion in others that are different from who we are.

When we approach conversations from a place of curiosity, we can create the opportunity for less reactive, more engaged and possibly more fruitful dialogue.

I would like to offer a few tips as you navigate this period:

1. Take your time to process your feelings about the election.

2. If you notice that your everyday functioning is being impaired, reach out and get professional support.

3. Connect with others who are sharing your experience of shock, anger, or grief. Connecting with your community can help ease feelings of isolation and depression.

4. Start or continue your own personal work. Now, more than ever, we are each being called to be conscious of the painful parts in ourselves and others that creates divisiveness in our homes, communities, and country.

5. As much as possible, return to the present and challenge future-oriented thoughts. While it’s normal and natural for our minds to race ahead, we simply don’t know what the coming weeks, months, and years will hold. Work to come back to the present, grounding yourself in the safety of your present reality, and continue taking very good care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Parenting for Emotional Intelligence

Scott Lilleston

As parents, we don’t want to see our kids unhappy. Whether it’s over the loss of a pet or a broken toy, we want to make it better for them, fast.

But this is where many parents get it wrong. When we help children feel happy again as quickly as possible, although it may provide immediate relief for everyone involved, it won’t help the child in the long run.

In order to build a foundation for lifelong success, it is important to not only soothe your child, but to also help them learn how to navigate their own emotional world.

Research shows that when teachers help preschoolers learn to manage their feelings in the classroom, the children become better problem solvers when faced with challenging emotional situations, and are better able to engage in learning. In teenage years, “emotional intelligence,” which is the ability to recognize and manage emotions, and is associated with an increased ability to cope with stressful situations and higher self-esteem.

As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of how we role-model emotional intelligence.

Emotional skills, such as resilience, can be learned. Depending on the age of your child, a balance of soothing them and allowing them to fully experience the emotion, gives them the opportunity to come into contact with their own resilience.

As parents and teachers, it is part of our job to soothe children during overwhelming emotions, but it also our job to teach them how to feel them, label them it, and let it go.

The following are four steps to follow when working with your child during an emotional upheaval:

1. Feel it. Don’t push away the negative emotions. Validate your child’s experience as a sentient person with his or her own emotional world.

2. Show it. Allow the full expression of the emotion.

3. Label it. This is a critical skill set for children. It is important to recognize stress versus anger or disappointment, for instance. Help your child detect and discriminate how they are feeling.

4. Watch it go. Help your child recognize the impermanence of his or her emotions. Even the hardest emotions are transient and we are bigger than they are. It is also helpful to show your child that we don’t always have the same emotion every time we have a similar experience. We might feel anxiety at one party or in one class but feel entirely different the next time.

Finally, we can help our child plan for the next time they will experience a strong emotion. You can ask your child about their experience if they are old enough to tell you about it. However, if they are very young it can be useful to use play to examine what happened.

Children feel stronger and more empowered when they learn that it is ok to feel, while knowing that it also won’t last forever.

The Resilience Behind Suffering

Scott Lilleston

The pain and struggle that the Native people at Standing Rock have experienced as they fight to protect their land and water is at the forefront of many of our minds these days. This devastating threat to human life feels deeply symbolic of the suffering that has been inflicted on American Indians for hundreds of years.

In this vein, I’d like to discuss the subject of “epigenetics,” a new buzzword in the world of science these days that has entered mainstream thought and approaches to the health and mental health worlds. The science of epigenetics, which literally means “above the gene,” proposes that we pass along more than DNA to future generations, but that our genes actually carry the memory of trauma experienced by our ancestors. This imprinted trauma can influence how we react to trauma and stress in our own lives.

Trauma influenced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.

Many experts agree that this is the first time in the history of medicine that we have had such clear insight into the determining factors of the health of an individual from infancy to adulthood.

Epigenetics allows us to look at an individual’s life not in disconnected stages but as integrated across time, offering insight into the origins and contributing factors to mental and physical illness.

American Indian healers have expressed wonder that it has taken science so long to catch up with traditional native knowledge, which has always used oral traditions to pass this information along to each generation.

Now that there is scientific proof that epigenetics is real, as healers and therapists we can begin to patch together how historical trauma is a major contributing factor in the development of illnesses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and so forth.

So what exactly is the historical or intergenerational trauma that epigenetics refers to? Researchers have pointed out that there are three phases: in the first, the dominant culture perpetrates mass trauma on a population in the form of colonialism, slavery, war or genocide. In the second phase the affected population shows physical and psychological symptoms in response to the trauma. In the final phase, the initial population passes these responses to trauma to subsequent generations, who in turn display similar symptoms.

The high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence and other ills among American Indians might be, at least in part, influenced by historical trauma. Experts agree that most of the historical trauma experienced by American Indians around colonization, such as the banning of indigenous language, traditional religious practices, tribal governments, banning of tribes, warfare, and disease have all been contributive factors in the mental health of later generations.

I feel that one of the most exciting components of the study of epigenetics is the hope of creating better and more specific mental health interventions.

I’d like to suggest that there is a resilience and nurturing gene on the horizon as well. Epigenetics simultaneously points to a certain level of resilience that is unique to certain populations that have historically experienced great trauma. We are beginning to understand inherited resilience, too.

A Call to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Scott Lilleston

That which is overwhelming and incomprehensibly painful in our lives does not disappear if left ignored. Our loved ones carry on all that we cannot. Likewise, we have done the same for the generations before us.

The effects of intergenerational trauma on mental health has become an urgent and compelling topic in the world of mental health these days, and in light of current global affairs, this topic feels more relevant than ever. Intergenerational trauma builds on the idea that what has been overwhelming, unbearable or unthinkable in the past falls out of social discourse. Yet very often, this trauma is passed onto the next generation.

The transmission of trauma may be particular to a family suffering a great loss, or it can show up as a shared response to societal trauma.

How do we carry secret stories from before our lifetimes?

The primary task of transmission is to resist disassociating from the family heritage and bring the story into social discourse. When stories of trauma remain as unconscious cues, anxiety is inherited through stories.

We might play out intergenerational trauma in our behavior, character, and relationship patterns. Trauma may reveal itself in mental or physical illness. Working to discover transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative of our family, one from the preceding generation. It requires close listening to the stories of our parents and grandparents, with special attention to the social and historical context in which they lived.

As a therapist, I feel that it is important to explore the ways in which our current lives are impacted by the events that our ancestors experienced. This is essential to the development of our values, because these often determine the answers to big questions such as: “Who am I?” and “Who am I to my family?”

As one navigates this precarious terrain of intergenerational transmission, it can feel like a painful process of separation. For many it might become an identity crisis as one breaks an emotional chain of intergenerational trauma. Piercing through the transmission means potentially ending a life defined by past traumas, behavior and belief systems.

Yet in order to break these destructive and painful patterns, we must take up the call to heal.

The child bears the burden of what the parent could not. The child, however, when given the tools and resources, has the choice of whether or not to author his or her own experience like previous generations.

By drawing trauma out of the shadows of generations and into the light, it is possible for past injuries to be healed so that future generations can be freed of the painful and destructive burden.

A Reflection on Gender Norms

Scott Lilleston

Gender behaviors are learned through socialization.

We can see this clearly when we look at how males and females are treated differently in different cultures. As we look across cultures we can see there are a diverse array of norms.  For instance, in India it is very normal to see heterosexual men holding hands as they walk through town, even if they are just friends. But in Western societies, the same behavior is perceived differently. It is likely assumed that the two men are romantic partners.

It is true that in western society today, there is a wide range of what is considered “appropriate behavior” for males and females. Dressing and behaving in a “metrosexual” way, for instance, is considered perfectly socially acceptable in many communities (particularly urban) today.

However, there are certain traditional examples of how men are expected to conform to the masculine role. Boys are not encouraged to embrace their nurturing side. They are taught to separate themselves from their feelings—to “suck it up.” Boys aren’t supposed to play with dolls, to dress up, to play house. Females, conversely, are encouraged to role play as wife or mother in childhood with their dolls. They might be discouraged from playing “rough and tumble.”

As we begin elementary school and become more socialized, our peers have a strong influence on the process that our families started. If you are male, perhaps you recall someone yelling at you, “You throw like a girl!” In this way, youth perpetuate the cycle of pressuring each other to conform.

By the time we reach adulthood, the impact of society—the media in particular—has solidified our gender identities even further. Perhaps we remain unaware of how this affects our lives, but no one is exempt from the impact. We keep close watch over our behavior. A woman may wonder, “Am I being too assertive, too dominant or too masculine by the requests I am making at work?” A man may question whether or not he is too emotional.

We become comfortable in these roles. They are predictable and keep us “safe” in the eyes of society. But without bringing awareness to how these roles impact all the corners of our lives, we are likely rejecting an essential part of ourselves.

It is important to ask ourselves if we have disowned an essential part of who we are in order to conform.

Some may overly identify with gender-conforming behavior, and some may overly resist. Either way, we are not honoring our entire being.  

For this reason, awareness of our behavior and how we each participate in a gender-normative culture that perpetuates a painful and alienating cycle is essential. Whether we resist or conform, gender roles become a key player in how we perceive ourselves and others. It can either separate us or connect us.

Do Our Intentions Really Matter?

Scott Lilleston

Imagine you and a friend are at a park together throwing a frisbee. Your friend tosses the frisbee and it hits you right in the face. Seeing your bloody nose, she cries, “Oh, I didn’t mean to hurt you! That wasn’t my intent!” You demand an apology, but she has already decided that it wasn’t her fault (after all, she never intended to hit you in the face!) and she has difficulty saying that she’s sorry.

It seems that the conversations buzzing in the media and news have taken on a similar bent these days. This has left me wondering: why is this same scenario happening all of the time when it comes to the intersection of our identities and oppressions or privileges?

When can we drop the conversation around “intent” and instead focus on impact?

Ultimately, what does the intent of our actions matter if the impact is one that furthers the marginalization and oppression of those around us?

In essence, this is a simple lesson of relationships: if I saw something that hurts my partner, it doesn’t matter whether I intended the statement to mean something else. My partner is now hurting. What matters at this point is that I need to learn how my language hurt my partner. Perhaps most importantly, I need to reflect, with empathy, on what happened and do my best to not repeat the same mistake in the future.

This lesson becomes much weightier and profound when we begin to consider how our identities intersect with those around us. More specifically, the ways in which our privilege and experience of marginalization or oppression intersect.

This is a matter of social justice.

It is absolutely critical that we realize just how profound and wide-reaching the impact of our actions can be on another’s life. Our impact is far more important than our intent.

It’s a matter of social responsibility and justice to pay constant and close attention to how our actions and language impact another’s sense of identity and self. We need to listen when we are clearly being told that the impact of our actions has caused harm, regardless of what we meant to do or say.

So, starting this moment, let’s begin by listening deeply to those around us in order to truly begin to understand their experience. Let’s reflect on how our actions or language has left an impact on someone else. Let’s apologize when we make a mistake. Let’s commit to doing better next time.

It doesn’t matter whether we believe, deep down, that we are not racist, homophobic, and so on, or that we intended our actions to be hurtful. If our actions are furthering the oppression of another individual or group, then that is what we need to pay attention to.

When Our Economic System is Bad For Our Health

Scott Lilleston

I often hear from clients that one of the major sources of stress in their lives comes from financial uncertainty and instability. With this stress, of course, comes a whole host of other problems that impact our emotional and physical well-being.

To make matters worse, the stress that individuals are experiencing around their own finances has become a collective one. We are now living in a time when it seems that leading a stressful life is more often a rule than an exception.

With more and more pressure to participate in a culture that places enormous value on material possessions such as cars, iPhones, laptops, clothing, and so forth, we find ourselves working harder and longer hours to keep up. The extra work hours and days have increased in recent years, which has led to emotional and physical problems including fatigue, heart disease, depression, sleep problems, substance abuse, anxiety, overeating, ulcers, and so on. Stress leads to exhaustion.

In other words, today’s economic system and the values we assign to it, is making us sick.

The question is, how can we ease the stress and begin to disentangle ourselves from a harmful pattern?

The first step is to bring attention to the impact you are experiencing in your own life. How is your sleep? Your relationships? Your physical and emotional health? Check in with your body. Notice where you might be holding tension in your neck, jaw, or stomach.

Some warning signs to pay attention to include a loss of enjoyment in work or family time, physical symptoms, skipping meals, increased irritability or frustration, chronic fatigue, feelings of emptiness or apathy, loss of focus and productivity despite long work hours, feeling trapped, chronic lateness and missed appointments, critical self-talk, frequent illness, forgetfulness, and lack of motivation.

The next step is to find an outlet that relieves your stress and suits your needs and lifestyle. Stress management is unique and personal to every individual, and for that reason, it is important to take an active role in finding activities and strategies that work for you.

I’d like to offer a few ideas that may serve as useful ingredients in a stress relief recipe that works for you:

+Incorporate moments of balance into your life. This might mean spending more time alone, or making new social connections. Perhaps it is engaging in an activity you’re passionate about, or taking a step back.

+Take time to relax. Try adding back activities that you may have decided you do not have time for at one point. Try yoga, sip a cup of tea, get lost in a book.

+Make sure to get enough sleep. You’ve heard this one before, I know! But sleep deprivation leads to a multitude of problems, so it is important to make sure we are getting enough.

+Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts, worries, dreams, and ideas. This will help you clarify your thoughts and intentions.

+Focus on eating a balanced diet. Make sure to stay adequately hydrated and nourished throughout the day in order to avoid dips in energy.

+Move! Preferably outside.

+Take breaks at work. Talk to a colleague. Go for a walk.


+Know when to seek outside support.

Finding Your Voice in The Crowd

Higher Practice

We are constantly bombarded with information.

At nearly all hours of the day, we receive an endless supply of knowledge from articles, blog posts, Twitter feeds, Facebook, books, and television.

Access to such a wealth of information can be wonderful—we learn so much about the world and other cultures, as well as our own. We can have friends across the globe. We learn new languages, watch videos that teach us new skills, and listen to lectures from world class teachers.

Unfortunately this information can also confuse us through messages of who we should or shouldn’t be…what we should do with our money, our lives, our time. It teaches us what to value and how to measure success.  

How much information is too much?

What happens to your own voice when it is being drowned out by so many others from the media? It’s easy to become overwhelmed with opinions and messages from others to the point that our own ideas and ability to think critically is threatened.

When we aren’t clear about what we believe then we are at risk of letting others fill in the space with their own agenda. And that’s when you run the risk of getting swept up in a wave of others’ ideas and opinions.

If it’s important to you that you stay connected to your own voice, it requires practices to clear out the information clutter.

Here are four ways to find your voice again amidst the sea of cultural noise:

1. Find time throughout the day to reflect.

When you set aside time to sit quietly and contemplate where your life is heading and whether that matches what your inner voice is telling you, you develop more self-trust and intuition.

Rather than jumping on Facebook and other social media outlets impulsively, try to give yourself space to listen to yourself. Spend the first hour after you come home from work sitting quietly, connecting to nature, journaling, and reflecting.

If we don’t give ourselves time to reflect on what is meaningful to us, and whether or not we are becoming the person we want to be, we miss out on our lives. Simply existing and reflecting is a powerful tool.

2. Share with loved ones.

Simplicity is all about creating more space for connection—particularly with our community. In our efforts to reclaim and listen to our own voice, it is helpful to share this with others.

Tell your friends and family about the challenges you’re facing. Ask for their counsel. As you find ways to simplify your life—whether this means downsizing or saying “no” to too many obligations—turning to others can open your mind to new ideas.

3. Be mindful of how much and what you are consuming.

Notice how much time you spend checking Facebook and Instagram. How much time do you spend comparing yourself to others rather than focusing on how much you already have?

In order to disrupt the feedback loop of, “I’m not enough,” “I don’t have enough,” “I wish I was someone else with someone else’s life,” pay close attention to what information you are choosing to consume.

When we are mindful of the information that we take in, we create more opportunity to discern where another’s voice stops and ours begins.

4. You are always free to change your mind!

By allowing ourselves to change our mind, we open ourselves to new ideas, insight, and possibilities!

The beauty of simplifying your media consumption is that you free up space and time for new dreams to arrive. As you become more conscious around your media and information consumption, you will continue to make choices in your life that align more closely with your own values, rather than someone else’s.

How to Have Gratitude and an Open Heart Through Simplicity

Higher Practice

Practicing gratitude beckons a simpler approach to life. And likewise, a simpler life offers ample opportunity and reason to practice gratitude.

When we feel thankful for our circumstances, our body, our work, our relationships, and our life in general, we open up to experiencing true contentment. When we use less effort, and buy only what matters most to us, we can appreciate the gifts that life has already offered.

For instance, many people believe that all of their challenges will go away if they only earned x amount of dollars, but gratitude and fulfillment can only come from within since our outer circumstances are always changing and evolving.

When we practice gratitude, our mindset shifts to one of abundance rather than scarcity.

We become more attentive to our needs, our desires, our relationships, our environment, and the present moment. You will discover how much you have to offer others and the world. You will also see the inherent gifts already inside of you.

When you’re able to experience gratitude, you’re more likely to help others, realizing with humility how your life has been shaped and informed by all of your experiences.

As you simplify how you spend your time, based on what you truly value most, you will notice that your life is filled with meaning and purpose.

This type of fulfillment also results in better physical and mental health, because you are living life in alignment with what’s most important to you

Gratitude heightens our enjoyment of the seasons of life, providing the strength to make it through challenging times and to be fully present during the better ones.

Gratitude could be called a discipline of the heart. It requires practice when times are easy and even more practice when life becomes difficult. But the more we train ourselves to that end, the more we are able to access it when we need it the most.

Gratitude is the result of seeing all of experiences of your life as a classroom for learning, therefore, it is a discipline and not an emotion.

The opposite of gratitude and simplicity is discontentment and hoarding. When people find themselves collecting and keeping objects they don’t highly value, they typically feel empty inside and are in a constant struggle for meaning.  

I’d like to offer a few practices for calling on gratitude in your life:

  • Schedule five minute periods of quiet reflection throughout your day to reflect on what you are thankful for

  • Intentionally find gratitude for simple joys, such as a sun drenched morning or a good conversation with a friend

  • If your current season of life is a stormy one, take time to reflect on what you are learning from it

  • Keep a gratitude journal in which you record what you are grateful for

Discontent is the cause of most unhealthy habits.

Gratitude is the cure.

Leave No Wake: Listen to Your Body to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Higher Practice

The body will give you all the signals you need to get what you want if you know how to listen to it…

Have you ever considered that the knot in your stomach on your drive to work may be a signal that you’re no longer passionate about your job?

Or that a constant flutter in your heart when you are spending time with a new romantic interest means there might be serious long-term possibilities ahead?

Listening to these sensations that arise in your body, and the underlying feelings that they signal, will allow you to tune in to your emotions and the wisdom they are trying to convey.

Imagine that you have arrived at a house for a party. A new friend invited you, and you are eager to get to know this person better to see how this friendship will develop. After spending an hour or so at the party, your new friend has not approached you and your having trouble trying to enter a conversation with them, because they are preoccupied with other people.

Your heart starts to beats faster and faster. Your thoughts pick up speed. You begin to wonder if you misread social cues. You feel trapped. Should you go over and say hello? Is there anyone else to talk to? Should you leave? Is it silly to feel jealous over a new friendship? Does this person not care about you? Feelings of sadness, confusion and disorientation overtake you.

What do you do?

Think of emotion as a combination of three forces that come together at once. This includes your nervous system, your endocrine system, and your environment. Our brain begins to scan our environment to detect  facial expressions and body language. We draw upon memories as reference points in order to infer meaning about our current situation based on past experience. Our body facilitates an interconnected series of sensations and thoughts that we call emotions.

This is where “emotional intelligence” and awareness of the body come into play. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the needs and feelings of oneself and other people, to manage one’s feelings effectively, and respond to others in appropriate ways.

As we increase our awareness of how sensations signal certain thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we develop emotional intelligence and the ability to work with our mind. As your emotional intelligence increases, you have more freedom to make choices from a grounded and less triggered place.

The primary skill that I encourage my clients to develop in order to increase emotional intelligence is awareness of the body and how certain reactions play out through sensation. This awareness cultivates our ability to live in the present rather than ruminating on events of the past or fears of the future. It is easy to jump to conclusions based upon our interpretations of our experience. Rather than quickly reacting to the situation, we can take a moment to intentionally slow down and fully perceive what’s happening through all of the senses.

Another benefit of emotional intelligence, is an increasing awareness of how our actions and speech impact the world. Like tuning a guitar, you will find yourself more harmonized with your environment and the people around you. You will learn how to speak and behave in ways that are more genuine and clear.
Listening to your body and developing emotional intelligence will increase your ability to achieve your desires, live in a state of balance and have meaningful relationships. This is not a skill set that is generally taught to us or encouraged by society. But some of the best things in life are often things you have to discover on your own.

A Simpler Life Is the Ultimate Freedom

Higher Practice

Most people long for less busyness, fewer things, a shorter to-do list, and more time to focus on what truly brings them joy.

Embracing a simple life is difficult to do in our society, but can also completely change a person’s life. It can grant you freedom you’ve never experienced before.

Imagine freedom from chronic fear, freedom from excessive worry, freedom from overwhelm, guilt, depression, and the trappings of a belief that having more will somehow liberate you from your inner struggles.

Simplicity might mean cleaning out your closets and the garage and owning less, spending more time with loved ones rather than at work, taking time for rest, and nurturing your body and soul. Simplicity is about creating a life for yourself that is reflective of your core values.

It is important to remember that there is nothing inherently wrong about material possessions, careers, family, a house, and so forth. Obviously, we need possessions to survive and luxuries to thrive.

The issues arise when you turn toward external factors in order to solve internal problems. By actively choosing to live a simpler life, you can make mindful and deliberate choices about everything from the objects you own, to new purchases you want to make, to the way you perform at work, and how you show up for your family.

Simplicity is revolutionary in our society because it means disengaging from a culture that’s addicted to cars, houses, iPhones, and objects as a way to find short-term relief from and inner struggle of anxiety, stress, and depression. We are taught early on that objects will solve our problems, but really the only problems they can solve are external ones.

In the end of the day we still have to face ourselves.

To simplify one’s life is an acknowledgment that busyness and extreme forms of materialism perpetuate an inward struggle of stress. It’s an unsustainable practice that humans are not hardwired for, even though our culture encourages it.

Simplicity is a brave and revolutionary path, but it’s also a personal choice.

Simplifying your life is a way to rid yourself of excess in favor of focusing on what’s most important to you—so you can find the fulfillment and freedom that you seek.

Simplicity is a practice that can help you….

  • Experience freedom

  • Value contribution over consumption

  • Discover the root cause of discontent and depression

  • Be more creative

  • Live in the moment

  • Reclaim your time

  • Pursue your passions

  • Focus on your mental and physical health

  • Cultivate a spiritual practice

  • Get in touch with nature

  • Deepen relationships with family and friends

  • Connect with your community

  • Rid your home of excess stuff

  • Grow as an individual

  • Find more meaning and purpose in your life

Embracing a life of simplicity will empower you to discover what is non-essential in order to focus on what truly matters. Simplicity allows you to open up to your life’s purpose because you can focus on what truly brings you joy.

Making choices for the sake of simplicity lays a foundation for inner freedom. A simpler schedule and less cluttered home will propel you on a search for happiness not through the ownership of things, but through life itself. 

How to Get Long Lasting Relief For Chronic Pain: Tune Into It

Scott Lilleston

What if you could feel empowered and strong while having chronic pain?

Although this might sound difficult to do, it’s entirely possible.

When I work with clients who suffer from severe chronic pain and injury, I notice how quickly my clients want to get away from intense sensations and focus on something else. Obviously, it’s a part of the human condition to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Freud figured this out a long time go.

Biologically, we are hardwired to do this. I’m sure you are familiar with the fight or flight response. Naturally we want to remove or distract ourselves from painful stimuli or situations. There are useful reasons for this.

What would happen if you placed your hand on a hot stove? Would you stand there with your hand on the stove? I hope not. That would be a different type of problem. You would pull your hand away immediately to avoid a burn.

Our instincts tell us to react to pain, because they are looking out for our immediate best interests. However, when you are facing chronic pain, you do not have the option of moving away from the stimulus that causes the discomfort. Chronic pain will just keep coming week-after-week, day-after-day, hour-after-hour.

My work as a body-centered therapist is to help my clients understand and unpack and sometimes rewire the way their mind and body interact.

If you are suffering from chronic pain and have tried all of sorts of remedies, medication, and treatments without relief, you’re left with one very powerful ally that is often overlooked. Yourself.

This is why I am a proponent for mindfulness practices as a powerful tool for overcoming persistent pain. In many cases, by identifying negative evaluations of pain and the avoidance of chronic pain signals in the body, you can then begin to develop a new way of interpreting these experiences that are less intense and more explorative. In fact, many people can even discover a root cause to their pain in the emotional memories stored in their body.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic and renowned Buddhist meditation teacher, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” He has suggested that by increasing your awareness of intense and painful regions of the body, you can cultivate a new relationship with physical pain and with your own mind and body. This relationship is cultivated by beginning to notice the regions that are free of pain and those that are hurting.

By dipping our toes in the water, we might notice an increased acceptance of pain just as it is. The idea is that by developing a new relationship to pain we accept that although pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional to some degree.

How Therapy Improves Your Emotional Intelligence

Higher Practice

The term ‘Emotional Intelligence (EI)’ has been described as a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.

Often clients come to my practice with the sincere wish to better understand and develop their inner landscape of thoughts and emotions. Most, if not all of my clients, truly want to know how this affects their relationships and their ability to perform at school and work.

Emotional Intelligence is a firm construct in the mind and body, but it is not rigid. Our ability to identify and soothe our own emotions is fairly stable over the course of time, and is often influenced by our early childhood experiences. If you were fortunate, you had a childhood experience that helped you gain a high degree of EI that allowed you to feel a wide range of emotions in yourself and others.

However, that is not the case for everyone. Many children don’t learn how to relate to their emotions in a healthy way. This can lead to challenges in a multitude of areas in one’s life. Remember, we all have areas of our lives where we can grow and they are NOT rigid. Change is possible. It does take dedication and guidance but change is possible.

One of the most important components of healthy EI is the awareness of how our emotions impact others. The therapeutic relationship is essential in this way. In therapy, we are actually training ourselves in how to relate to  others effectively and with compassion. For instance, a therapist may use EI training to teach a client specific social skills, such as reading body language, empathizing with the feelings of others, and providing appropriate feedback.

Remember that when you are in therapy, the relationship you have with your therapist has a profound effect on your journey.

While many ingredients are required for a quality therapeutic relationship, the most important aspect of effective EI-coaching is when the therapist provides the client with accurate feedback. Most of us are generally unaware of how others see us, so therapy is an opportunity to learn how we are affecting another through our speech, body language, and actions. Any therapeutic process that focuses on increasing EI must begin by helping individuals understand what their real strengths and limitations are.

It’s hard work to increase your emotional intelligence. Embarking on the journey with a therapist can help provide objectivity, more fulfillment and the ability to meet realistic goals. Ultimately, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

The Trap of Expectations

Higher Practice

“Give up defining yourself—to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life.” —Eckhart Tolle

A common trap along the healing journey is getting stuck in unhelpful thoughts like, “I need to have a perfect diet in order to be healthy,” or “If only I worked out six days a week, then I’d be healthy.”

When you tell yourself you need to be perfect, it often leads to limiting beliefs about yourself.

And it’s amazing how in the end of the day this gets us the opposite of what we want: less freedom and more pain and suffering.

A strict, linear path of self-care is ultimately not supportive to your well-being as a whole.

Just think about your life. It’s rarely static or fixed. Life is always moving, changing, and evolving—so your approach to self-care and mental health must also be flexible and adaptable in order to align with the flow of your live.

Here’s a simple and important exercise to help you understand and adjust your mindset into an effective and fluid way of achieving your goals...

Grab a piece of paper and pen. Write down a list of twenty-five statements that will help you achieve health and well-being.

Try not to overthink or edit your responses. Just explore what’s there in your consciousness. Allow yourself to be surprised. But keep in mind this new mindset of flexibility, fluidity and imperfection.

I’ve heard clients respond with the following:

  • “I’m going to do yoga around five days a week to stay connected to my body.”

  • “I’m going to eat less sugar once a day, because it makes me tired.”

  • “I’m going to try and sleep by 10:00 p.m. so I can get eight hours of rest every day.”

Do you see how these are statements of intention and can lead you to living life a more fluid and fulfilled life?

We all have our own versions.

When you look at yours, how do the statements feel to you?

I want to remind you that you are a complex and nuanced being.

You are constantly changing, evolving, and growing. Likewise, the context of your life is always in flux—your career, relationships, homes, and passions.

Do you recall what your intentions were fifteen years ago? Who were you at that point? What was different about your life and priorities then?

As you change, you will notice that your intentions and priorities change.

That’s why it’s important that you are living by your current priorities and not old, outdated ones that no longer serve you.

Like a gardener who is constantly trying out what she thinks will support her plants, always observing them and tracking their responses, you can garden yourself similarly.

What flowers are you cultivating today? If you find that you aren’t thriving in the way you want to be, you can try different strategies for nourishment and support.

Remember, a gardener knows that when she is tending her garden, there is no one solution that works every time. Weather patterns, soil quality, and seasons changing influence the way the earth holds or drains water.

Try experimenting with your physical and emotional this way, you can honor and celebrate your evolution, becoming adaptable and flexible to the changing seasons of your life and discover a new ability to dance with life in a creative and playful way.

When you change your mindset to a path of intention and leave any rigid expectations behind, you will find how incredibly effective you are at reaching your health and well-being goals.

Developing Self Awareness for a Thriving Career

Higher Practice

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you probably know how important emotional intelligence (EI) is to your relationships, health and overall well-being.

But one of the most important areas to have a high-degree of EI is in your career. EI has a powerful impact on your performance at work, leadership skills, and ability to cultivate a more satisfying and enriching career.

Self-awareness, a cornerstone of EI, is an important characteristic of an effective leader. And in order to excel at work, you ultimately have to learn how to exercise effective leadership strategies.

The ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions and to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships are critical traits that effective leaders demonstrate.

In fact, EI is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, you can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but you still won’t make a great leader.

If you have a healthy sense of self-awareness, you understand your own strengths and limitations, and how your actions affect others. A person who is self-aware is always better able to handle and learn from constructive criticism than one who is not.

Among the five key components of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy for others, and social skills—self-awareness is one of the most helpful skills that my clients and I address together.

A good sense of self-awareness allows you to understand and interpret your own moods, emotions, inner drives, and impact on others. This often translates to increased levels of  self-confidence.

When clients gain higher states of self-awareness they are able to realistically assess themselves, their thoughts, and their behaviors. This serves them professionally and personally.

Here are a few exercises you can try at work in order to enhance your EI:

- Spend a day taking careful notes of the source of your emotions. Is your anger a reaction to a comment a colleague made during a meeting? Is your happiness a result of a compliment from your boss? Are you feeling anxious because you missed a deadline?

- Consider how your negative emotions (anger, jealously, frustration, disengagement, etc.) may have impacted your boss, clients, and co-workers in the past. Work towards taking responsibility for your part in past conflicts.

- Think about helpful tools for managing your emotions on the job to avoid knee-jerk reactions. Perhaps this means taking a walk when you’re anxious or saying “no” when you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities.

- Take an honest look at your own strengths and weaknesses. Ask your boss for feedback and work with the areas that you feel can be improved.

As we exercise self-awareness time and time again, it becomes natural. You can continue to flex this new muscle by pausing throughout your day to notice how others are responding to you.

Increase your emotional intelligence at work and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

How to Be Your Own Best Guide

Higher Practice

It’s clear that inviting emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological support into your life is essential. It’s kind of common sense that we all need support from others. But science backs this up too. As humans, we are relational creatures that need the support of community in order to feel balanced and healthy.

Yet, there is a belief that I have observed over and over again in my clients--myself included, at times--where we think that when it comes to our own self-care, we are on our own.

Usually a high degree of fear and shame drives this belief. Many people are embarrassed by the fact that they need or want help. Asking for and receiving help from others in our society is often seen as a sign of weakness. And we are trained that if we get help, we are giving our power away to another person in a position of authority.

Asking for support from others has nothing to do with handing over your own sense of authority.

I believe it’s just the opposite. When we rely on others—both professionally and personally—we discover a new strength. This strength comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable and willing to be transparent in a way you never have before. This takes courage, strength, and flexibility. Hardly the traits of a disempowered person.

By taking charge of your growth in this way, you become more adept at knowing which reflections, comments, and ideas resonate with you. When you are able to stay connected to yourself while receiving someone else’s help you can also let go of anything that just doesn't make sense or support your growth.

In this way, you become your own authority, even though you are working with a professional in a position of authority who can help you.

Having professionals on your team of support is critical since they not only offer the expertise from years of training, but they bring the experience of practicing their healing art every day to the table. Their skills, perspectives, and depth of experience is irreplaceable.

Recognizing the value of their support and then asking for it is a huge step on the healing journey. It’s actually very empowering.

When the timing is right and you feel inspired to get help, you become the creative force in charge of your journey of health and growth.

Going to a healthcare professional means that you are hiring them to support you directly as your consultant. Only you know who and what brings you alive.

As your self-care abilities grow stronger, you will begin to trust the professional support in your life more and more. You will know how to ask for feedback and treatments that will be helpful to you. You will recognize that you are in charge and ultimately know best.

Having discernment and self-respect about who you are and where you are on your health journey is important as you share your vulnerabilities with those that you invite onto your team.

Choose people for your team—whether professionals, peers, or family—who have the capacity to hold all of you. This includes your darkness and your light.

They should embrace your complexity, nuance, ups and downs, while also practicing love, gentleness, compassion, and challenge.

The Path of Least Resistance

Higher Practice

“I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” —Byron Katie


I often find that while working with clients who struggle with anxiety or depression, and other mental health challenges, those who do find greater peace and ease are usually the clients who have fully accepted their current reality as the pathway health.

A very common experience amongst clients who seek therapy is the realization that it is only by giving up resistance to their current situation—even one that deeply drains them both emotionally and physically—that they can arrive at a place of healing and sustained well-being.

Perhaps you have felt anxious going to work everyday, or depressed and isolated in an intimate relationship. Have you begun to look at your current situation through the lens of what you are lacking? Do you afford yourself the compassion to view your situation through a broader lens—seeing each piece of your life as one that fits into a much larger whole?

Clients often beat themselves up for not changing fast enough; they recognize the places in their lives where they get stuck, but they do not recognize the areas in which they are making great effort and changing. The more they resist their current situation, the more exhaustion and sense of failure they feel.

When we look at our current situation—our relationships, our mental and physical health—with compassion and patience, we can tell ourselves, ‘Okay, this is my experience at the moment. What are the steps I will take to work with that?’ It is at this point that we can begin to objectively assess the stories we tell ourselves, discerning where it is that we cut ourselves short or do not push enough, and how to move forward in ways that inspire and revitalize us.

In practicing this level of acceptance you will discover how certain patterns are no longer serving you. Intimately knowing how we relate to ourselves and others sheds light on how we show up in all areas of our lives. You can discover the areas of your life where you disconnect.

By freshly accepting the place where we are starting each day, we come into direct relationship with our own emotions more clearly and compassionately. We can be honest with ourselves.

It is so easy to resist our current reality if we don’t like what we see. We want to push back against feelings of depression and anxiety, inadvertently becoming the victim in our own life. When we accept what is truly happening in the present and choose to be in direct relationship with that truth, we access a sense of empowerment rather than passivity or defeat. This is the key to breaking the cycle. This is when deep healing takes place.

When we acknowledge what is really happening in this moment, we might discover creative strategies and solutions that move us forward.