Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

Finding solid ground when you lose your way September 27, 2015

 

I got lost but look what I found.
Irving Berlin

 

 

When you lose your way and forget who you are, your beauty, your kindness, your connection to all that is, come back home. There is a trail of breadcrumbs leading to your true self. A self capable of curiosity, creativity, confidence, courage, unconditional self-acceptance, and peace.

 

There is a part of you that can be ok in this world with its mind-boggling contradictions, daily challenges, betrayals, and unanswered questions. You can let it all just be. The knowable and unknowable. Give it a cosmic permission slip to soothe, annoy, delight, or dismay in its myriad ways.

 

Let whatever comes come. It won’t last.

 

You are here for it all. A vessel for experiences. If you woke up this morning there is still space in you for more. When you’re full, you’ll go. Now, just be.

 

Take a moment to let life fill you with its wild buffet: hunger/satisfaction, connection/disconnection, sound/silence, meaning/meaninglessness, joy/grief. They all pass.

 

Be curious.

Be open.

Listen.

Look.

Feel.

Taste.

Touch.

Move.

Pay attention.

You won’t be here forever.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

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Gaining A Foothold Amid Chaos January 16, 2015

 

 

“Pain is not punishment, pleasure is not a reward. Both are just natural occurrences. Kindness, kindness, kindness.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to a bride and groom at their wedding.

 

 

Sometimes, life can feel like a whirlpool and you are being dragged into the vortex of hell. Hell might be dissonance in a relationship, financial or physical woes, or lack of purpose. Intense anxiety comes from thinking you can’t handle it and catastrophizing about how much worse things will get.

 

At those moments, the last thing you want is to delve deeper, or even allow the downward spiraling energy to carry you along, but that is exactly where freedom and relief lie. For what is at the end of any plunge but solid ground?

 

Allowing yourself to surrender to the inevitable, whether it be the dissolution of a relationship, facing an illness, dealing with debt, or acknowledging a sense of purposelessness, all have the capacity to jolt you into a new way of being with yourself and the world.

 

Unfortunately, the natural tendency is to fight tooth and nail to avoid an emotionally chaotic landslide. But fighting reality only creates more pain, anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.

 

Instinctively, humans are designed to avoid what is fearful. Since cave dwelling times that helped us survive and evolve. Yet, even thousands of years ago, the Buddha realized running from reality (unless it was from a hungry tiger) only deepened fear. While the Buddha was not privy to current research on neurobiology, he was ahead of his time.  We now know neurons that fire together wire together. Whatever you habitually do gets stronger until it becomes almost automatic. Thus, anxiety begets more anxiety until it can feel like living in a roiling sea of dread.

 

At first glance, it may seem that running away from what scares you, whether through an addiction or with other, less obviously harmful, distractions keeps the demons at bay, but avoidance only makes your fears grow until you can no longer deny them. The greatest kindness you can show yourself is letting go into the free fall of life knowing you will land on solid ground. The terra firma of your own center.

 

While it may go against your grain to face your fears, this habit develops courage, perseverence, and self-discipline, the very trio that help you navigate life more easily.

 

One way to strengthen your ability to sit with reality is to start small.

 

First, give yourself a cosmic permission slip to feel whatever is true for you now, and to feel it in your body, not just cognitively or emotionally.

 

Notice when you are disappointed. It could be your plans were cancelled, you sprained your ankle, or the grocery store was out of your favorite treat. Watch your reactions. Which parts of your body have tensed up? What are you thinking? Are you angry? Do you suddenly feel defeated? Are you projecting a bleak future?

 

Write them all down. Starting with your body, describe your physical feelings as best as you can. Then, breathe into the spaces that feel tight and see how they change. Next, look at your thoughts. Are they helpful? Are they true? What would  you prefer to think? Finally, go inside and feel your feelings. Where did they come from? The two most likely places are your thoughts and your past experiences. What happened in your childhood when your desires were thwarted? Remind yourself, you are no longer that little child. You have amassed a slew of coping mechanisms, new ways of thinking, and behavioral interventions (like talking a walk, breath work, listening to music, having tea, calling a friend, etc.), any of which can be retrieved when you feel out of kilter.

 

Do you have a history of trauma? If so, even the slightest current challenge can trigger a cascade of negative bodily reactions and unwelcome emotions. For example, someone canceling a plan because they are ill can bring you back to other times when you felt abandoned. This is an unconscious process that can flood your system with a variety of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. The good news is accepting what is true for you now and gently moving towards it shows you you can handle more than you thought. That said, if you were abused it is important to get some help. You do not need to navigate those turbulent waters alone.

 

 

NOTE:

 

Goethe once said, “Words are a raft when the mind is at sea.”

 

If you don’t already keep a journal, please get one and write in it. Many mind-body practitioners, including Dr. John Sarno and Dr. David Hanscom, attest to the value of journaling for treating a variety of psychogenic and auto-immune issues. A key ingredient here is to write out all your thoughts and feelings, no self-censorship. Psychologically, writing down whatever you are thinking and feeling cleanses it from your cranium.

University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing their impact on your physical health.

The act of writing accesses your rational, analytical left brain. This frees your right brain to create, intuit, and feel.

Writing also helps you:

Clarify your thoughts and feelings.

Gain self-knowledge; especially regarding people and situations that feel unhelpful, or even toxic, to you.

Purge stress.

Release the emotional intensity from feeling angry, grief-stricken, or overwhelmed.

Become more mindful and present.

Because writing uses both sides of the brain it is an excellent way to solve problems and figure out creative ways to deal with difficult people. You might even find your perspective shifting as you write.

Keeping a journal allows you to track patterns and growth over time. One of the greatest benefits is how your own notes remind you of all you have already handled in your life. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you can look back on previous challenges and see how you coped.

 

You might also like to keep an audio journal. Check out: Recording and Listening on this website for ways to embark on that journey.

 

Another wonderful, free resource is an app called the meditation timer. It has hundreds of guided meditations to help you discover the joys of being fully in the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang 

 

 

Personal evolution May 2, 2013



“…may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple…may my heart always be open”

e.e. cummings


It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution. I think it’s personal evolution that will bring about planetary evolution. So that’s what I’m focusing on.

Woody Harrelson


Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.
Chinese Proverb

 

How do you think your perception of life might shift if you viewed everything through the lens of your constantly evolving self, understanding each thought, action and emotion moved you towards a greater ability to love and learn? Each victory, defeat, or challenge would be just another opportunity to change and grow. Since life is fraught with uncertainty and transitions, why not choose to view them all as catalysts for personal evolution?


When living is hard, and it certainly can be, why not embrace the discomfort, pain, inconvenience, and ego injuries with curiosity? Do the opposite of what you initially desire–running away–and paradoxically, run towards the challenge. What an opportunity to see how capable you really are. How much you can handle, and how deep wells of compassion for yourself and others open up when you move towards that which you don’t like.


Of course, it is natural to rant and rail against the injustices, aggravations, inconveniences, and indignities of life; and, that can feel cathartic and freeing. Unfortunately, rarely does mere venting build resilience or make you feel better in the long run. Taking a paradoxical approach and moving towards what you want to shun can be refreshing and full of interesting surprises. It shifts your perspective 180 degrees, enabling you to see something positive in a situation that only seemed miserable seconds earlier. Committing to approach something negative with a different attitude reminds you that, no matter what the situation, you can almost always choose your response.


The ancient yogis knew this and practiced setting intentions, meditating (either seated, with breath work, or doing yoga postures to calm the body-mind), and using mantras as ways to harness the mind’s power to enhance feelings of self-determination. You may get the flu, your request for a mortgage can be denied, the job promotion you wanted goes to a colleague, or any one of a multitude of things happens that harshes your mellow. In almost every case, except those that involve brain damage, you can consciously choose to re-frame your perspective. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Though, with perseverence and practice it becomes easier.


The toughest aspect of this path is how frequently you can get derailed. It might be a small catalyst, like someone cutting you off the road, or a large one like the death of a parent. You thought you had practiced accepting life on life’s terms; yet, suddenly, you are feeling angry, anxious, guilty, worthless, hopeless, or depressed. This happens to almost everyone, and is no reflection on your desire to maintain emotional homeostasis. As a matter of fact, it is simply a cosmic reminder to take a breath, think differently, re-focus your perspective; or, just stop and be grateful for every gift that has been bestowed on you.


In Buddhism, the concept of shenpa refers to our ability to get hooked into unpleasant emotional and behavioral reactions, including shutting down, when certain buttons are pushed. Even if you have been working diligently on yourself for decades, you will get hooked. So, it is crucial to be vigilant for times when complacency and ego appear. Thinking you are so firmly rooted in your balanced view of life that nothing can blow it up is just hubris. The ego loves to think it has something all nailed down; but, life’s vicissitudes are always ready to teach it a lesson. The best strategy is to gracefully accept how challenging being human can be. Give life’s quirky surprises the respect they deserve, and give yourself credit for doing what you can to navigate the ups and downs.


When things are going your way, enjoy them to the hilt, for they won’t last. When tough times emerge remember your practices (they are strewn throughout this website: cognitive, physical, spiritual, nutritional, social, etc.), and re-commit to doing them. While almost all require some measure of self-discipline, each will help you feel a greater sense of control, even if it is just observing a breath while waiting for the challenge du jour to end.

 
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

There Is No One Right Way To Live

 

 

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

There is no one right way to live. There is only your way in this moment. Whether you are experiencing abject misery, overwhelming joy, or numbness, this is your minute. Claim it as part of your unique experience on this earth. After all, since you are only a visitor, why not approach everything as fascinating? If you really feel like raising the bar, you could even consider all aspects of your life sacred. Should you choose to adopt that world view, you might find yourself more comfortable riding the seas of unpredictability that show up daily.

 

Of course, it is natural to get caught up in an emotion or experience and think it will never end. Whether it is physical pain, euphoria, or something else entirely it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that everything, yes, everything, ends. Clinging to the joys and shunning the difficulties only makes life harder.

 

What if you adopted a completely different view, one that embraces everything as part of your adventure on planet earth? Each moment would be a portal into understanding the varieties of experience. Not judging, comparing, or getting lost along the spectrum of discerning whether something brings joy or grief. Just being. Right now. In this moment. No story line to keep you company, no drama to create, only awareness and curiosity.

 

How differently would you think?

What might your new attitude feel like?

How would you approach what arises?

What effect would that openness and acceptance have on your relationship with yourself and others?

 

This is not about spiritual perfectionism, but gently, lovingly, coaxing yourself back into an appreciation of the moment, whatever it feels like. Not every moment, just those you want to fully experience.

 

While there is no emotional terra firma, you can anchor yourself in the present, allow all thoughts and feelings to flow through you, and cultivate genuine wonder. Empowered with joy, openness, and curiosity you can truly inhabit the fullness of your life.

 

An exercise that grounds you in the moment while tapping into your ability to appreciate the most mundane, yet potentially bliss-inducing, aspects of your environment, is the 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. It is quite simple, yet profound.

 

Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Give yourself about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.

 

Even simpler, just consciously allow whatever your experience is right now. Stop reading, take a breath, and assess how you are processing this moment. Are you being critical? Angry? Stoic? Resigned? Numb? Perhaps, you are grateful, joyful, accepting, open, or unconditionally self-accepting. The more you pay attention and do these mini check-ins, the more you will notice the emotional vicissitudes of life as they occur. Once you allow your ever-changing, full range of thoughts and feelings, and agree to being present and human for whatever crosses your path, life will feel more manageable and interesting.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

You Are Just a Visitor March 19, 2012



If you are a yogi, Buddhist, or have simply read some chapters on this site, you are probably familiar with the concepts of mindfulness and witness consciousness. While both support an open awareness of what is, any techniques that help root you in the present will bolster your equanimity and strengthen your resilience.


By thinking of your time on earth as a visit you can re-frame your experiences to more easily stay in the now. From there, you can practice some healthy detachment from outcome, the Buddhist idea of letting go of what we think we want in favor of being open to life’s vicissitudes. This offers another approach to leave the evil twins of suffering, also known as craving and aversion, behind.


Whether the time between birth and death is long, medium, or short you can choose to view it as a visit. After all, you are merely a tourist in your body, on earth, right now. This moment is all you have. The past is over and will never come again, the future is simply a concept only having value when it becomes the present; otherwise, it’s just fodder for anxiety.


By thinking of yourself as a visitor, you can open up to seemingly similar situations with fresh eyes. As they say, you can never step into the same river twice. Re-framing your experiences helps build awareness that the river, and life, constantly shift.


A healthy measure of detachment from outcome fosters witness consciousness, the ability to see things more objectively. Of course, humans are designed to view life subjectively; but, it is possible to cultivate some perspective, delaying a knee-jerk emotional response. This nanosecond’s pause often provides enough time to free yourself from a habituated response, allowing you to try on a different approach.


Another helpful technique on the path to greater emotional freedom is to imagine what someone else is thinking and feeling. Unlike empathy, where you feel with another person because you have had a similar experience, this creates an expanded consciousness enabling you to see things from someone else’s perspective. Not an easy task, but one worth practicing.


Experimenting with these new modalities is the only way to know if they will enhance your life and sense of control. You can’t orchestrate everything that happens, but you can choose your attitude about it.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Restlessness, boredom, and groundlessness October 9, 2011



While there are a multitude of distractions and amusements available to anyone with a library card, it is not unusual to go through periods of boredom when not even the most scintillating book, movie, or conversation will sate the crankiness demon. At those times, it is best to stop whatever you are doing and simply sit with what is. Are you feeling annoyed, frustrated, agitated, sad, or self-critical? Welcome whatever comes up. Investigate it. Do something paradoxical and try to increase the feeling. This may sound counter-productive, but it will actually help you figure out what is going on. If you let yourself go deeply into your boredom the underlying issue will surface. Once it does, ask yourself how you want to handle it. Consciously choose to explore your thoughts and feelings though journaling, talking with someone (friend, relative, clergy, or therapist), or simply breathing, meditating, and allowing them.


Boredom is uncomfortable, and it is natural to want to banish it immediately. By exploring what is going on right this minute, you allow yourself to relax with what’s coming up. It is only a feeling. You have probably felt every emotion before, whether fear, joy, anger, love, anxiety, sadness, or grief, and you’re still alive.


Boredom is often a code word for something else. It seems to appear when your internal state is so strong anything external loses its power to divert you. The irritability comes from wanting relief from those simmering uncomfortable feelings and knowing the only way out is through. When nothing feels right or good, just breathing can be a refuge.


No one likes feeling irritable, bored, or restless. Nor should you. Perhaps, the purpose of these annoying feelings is to wake you out of a funk. Sometimes, an unpleasant state of mind is necessary when routine ways of being and doing have sucked the novelty out of life. Variety does spice things up, and without it living can lose its luster. Whether it’s trying different foods, listening to new music, taking a drive to an unknown locale, or going to an art opening, mixing things up helps you thrive. In addition to creating new neural pathways, unpredictability and spontaneity create a sense of surprise and delight. Of course, it has to be the right amount. Too much novelty and you feel groundless, too little and you’re bored.


Maintaining emotional balance is not easy. Life, with all its demands, intrudes on the best laid plans. So, boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness appear. Re-grounding yourself can be as easy as feeling your body sitting, standing, or moving, eating something mindfully, looking out a window and really seeing what meets your gaze, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, writing in your journal, or anything else that uses some of that irritable energy. Even meditation, not an easy feat when you are feeling crabby, is helpful, since it reminds you this is merely a passing state you can label and release. Actually, you are not really releasing the state as much as your attachment to it.


Boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness are simply different terms for feeling temporarily stuck and uncomfortable. You will not stay in this state of mind. Everything changes, and that is what makes life so interesting. You never know what’s next. By sitting with what is, or actively shaking things up a bit, you practice mindfulness or self-determination. Sometimes, one will work better than the other. It’s always good to have a few arrows in your quiver since one day sitting with your feelings will be the right choice, and another doing something proactively will work.


The following grounding techniques utilize your ability to actively focus attention on something external to distract you from whatever thoughts and feelings seem unpleasant, overwhelming, or boring. (They are from another chapter called Grounding Techniques.)


5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.


Another 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 objects, 5 colors, 5 shapes, and 5 textures, then 4 in each category,, then 3, then 2, and 1.


Think of all the vocabulary words you can rememeber from another language you studied.


Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.


Recite a poem you memorized as a child.


Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.


Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.


Sing a song.


Build a sanctuary in your head. Add as much detail as possible.


Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed. Breathe into that place.


Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.


Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.


Count backwards by threes from 100.


List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.


Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.


Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.


Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever you are feeling is part of life. You are here to feel it all.




Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

How to Handle: “Get over it already.” July 23, 2009

There seems to be a prevailing philosophy that all grief should disappear in a short time.  Its mantra, “Get over it already,” is uttered incessantly, whether you just broke-up, lost a job, had an accident, or buried a loved one. What’s the rush, and whose healing schedule are you on? Surely, not theirs. Grief work (which can include anger, anxiety, depression, remorse, resentment, and feelings of worthlessness) has no timetable.  It is as unique as your fingerprint; yet, there seems to be this belief that moving on as fast as possible is the only right way.  Of course, with this mandate saturating our culture, anyone who takes his or her time to fully grieve is left with the double whammy of having endured whatever sparked the grief and feeling like a failure because they haven’t “gotten over it” yet.

We all know plenty of people mask their misery with drugs, alcohol, random sex, and a plethora of other addictions. Could this possibly be healthier than dealing with it? In some circles as long as someone keeps their pain under wraps, and puts on a happy face, everyone can just party hearty.  After all, it’s no fun being around a grief-stricken soul; and it’s even worse feeling ineffectual because you can’t make them happier.  No wonder there’s such a deep societal desire to “get over it already.”

So, what is the best response to: “Aren’t you over that already?” (Especially, when it’s delivered in a tone that seems to imply, “What’s wrong with you?” and, puts you on the defensive).  In a perfect world, where everyone has their wits about them 24/7, it might be utter silence accompanied by a slightly quizzical look. This would circumvent the the knee-jerk defensive response to what sounds like a criticism.  A simple “No” might suffice, but you risk the person replying with, “Well, you should be!”  If there’s a little two year old inside you, and there is in almost all adults, he or she is likely to take offense at being told what to do.

Henry Ford II once said, “Never explain, never complain.”  Perhaps that’s the best guide. Unfortunately, if the person exhorting you to “get over it” is a close friend or relative, you might feel a vested interest in sharing your true thoughts and feelings, if for no other reason than not having them ever utter those words to you again. You might even share how you’ve decided to give yourself a cosmic permission slip to take all the time you need to process your grief.

If you’re feeling particularly honest, you could say: “When you ask that question I feel denigrated and judged,”  letting your comment hang in the air and putting the onus on the other person to respond.

Or, you might try: “One of the things this whole experience has taught me is that I can take whatever time I need to let go and forgive. I may never completely get over this. I’ve decided to make that OK, too.”

Then there’s the very direct approach: “I don’t find that a helpful question,” or, “Please don’t ask me that.”

I generally like to assume the best (or, at least some neutral motivation) on the part of people saying, “Aren’t you over that, already?”  Perhaps, they want to propel you to healing faster, because they don’t like seeing you in pain or they feel helpless in assuaging your misery. It really is all about what they think and feel, and their projection of what they believe they would do if in your shoes.  While understanding the genesis of their comment can be helpful, it doesn’t really solve the problem of the best response.  Clearly, that depends on your mood, with whom you are speaking, and your stage of grief. (Contrary to what Elizabeth Kubler Ross said, those stages do not follow linearly, and can come back to haunt you in all sorts of disorderly and unpredictable ways.)

You could say, “Perhaps, if you had this experience (divorce, break-up, death of a loved one) you would have already worked through your grief, but I haven’t. Part of my journey is making it safe to allow my feelings to evolve.”

A deeper issue here is having the courage of your convictions and the confidence to express them.  The only way to build confidence is by doing difficult things.  Assertively standing up for yourself can be very challenging, especially when you feel beaten down by life; but, that’s the time to practice speaking your truth. It will not only build confidence, but you might feel a new lightness from unburdening yourself and being authentic.

In a perfect world, people might have the sensitivity and awareness to say, “I am so sorry this situation is painful and difficult for you,” and just leave it at that.  But, if they continue to say, Aren’t you over that already?” perhaps responding with: “I appreciate your desire to see an end to my suffering. Thank you for your sympathy and concern.” could be liberating, and keep you from reacting defensively.

No one likes to feel judged, put-down, or chastised. If you know that question pushes your buttons it’s best to get away from it as quickly as possible, especially with acquaintances.  If you want to explain how you really feel to friends or family, that’s different as you have a long-standing bond with them, and presumably many years of relationship ahead.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
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