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.

Things I Keep From Myself June 18, 2013



“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development.
To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life.
It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis


“And that is how we are. By strength of will we cut off our inner intuitive knowledge from admitted consciousness. This causes a state of dread, or apprehension, which makes the blow ten times worse when it does fall.”
D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover


We all do it: deny certain things just so we can get through the day with less stress, fewer negative interpersonal issues, and a minimum of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps, we stop counting how many drinks we had, how much money we spent, or how many chocolates we ate. It is all in the name of avoiding the truth. What truth? The truth that we may find our job meaningless, haven’t the slightest interest in our mate, feel overwhelmed from the demands and responsibilities of raising a family, experience physical aches and pains we ignore, drink way too much caffeine, take a plethora of medications to quiet the demons, and live with an inner cacophony of self-criticism. Those certainly sound like a boat load of genuine issues, and they are. However, they are also capable of distracting us from our deeper unconscious conflicts.


Some people carry their issues to the grave through denial, while others choose to face their fears and do the scary work of plumbing their depths through self-awareness. It is extremely frightening to acknowledge how much you might dislike your mate, feel ambivalent about child rearing, or work in a soul deadening job; however, allowing anxiety (about the possible fall-out of looking at your life) to stymie your ultimate growth could ultimately create more pain.


My mother likes to say she hates change even when it’s for the better. I know she’s not alone in that view. Unless you are an excitement junkie, you probably agree with her. Facing the hard realities of life, with its potential for intense upheaval, is typically something we go into kicking and screaming. Who wants to clean up the mess after an emotional tsunami? No one. The good news is just the way you have to pulverize everything to make a great smoothie, things may be smashed to bits, but there will be gains you can’t even begin to imagine. Focusing on possible losses only delays your growth. That’s OK, too, as we often have to feel a situation is untenable before we actually do anything about it.


Bear in mind, it is natural to live with some denial. If we didn’t we would feel constantly overwhelmed and too numb to do anything. Give yourself credit for having the courage to plumb your depths, and lavish yourself with compassion as you gently explore some of the following options for getting more in touch.


Ask yourself: What am I avoiding facing?

This is a very tough question.

A portal to it may be asking yourself when do I feel my most difficult and challenging emotions?

Is the situation triggering guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, or a combo plate?

Is there any pattern I can discern?

What might I be denying that I am distracting myself from seeing?

A good way to ferret that out is by looking at your favorite addictions, habits, and dependencies.

When do you most typically engage in them? Are there certain triggers that activate those behaviors?
If so, simply delay your usual habit for five minutes and see what emerges.

You might also want to try writing down your thoughts and feelings before engaging in your addiction, during it, and afterwards. I know this will intrude on the mind-numbing loveliness the habit engenders, but the insights you gain will be worth it.


If all that seems too heavy for now, you might want to try asking yourself what is really going on when you feel any unpleasant emotion, even something as mundane as frustration, annoyance, or irritability.

What are you thinking? If you are angry, you are probably demanding you, others, or the universe be different.

Experiment with allowing life to be unpleasant, difficult, annoying, frustrating, and disturbing, because, it will continue to be.
You will be a much happier human if you can adjust to reality, since reality is not about to re-orient itself to suit your desires or demands.


Last but not least, you can try making a list of “100 things I might be denying.” There probably will not be 100, but this particular exercise is an excellent way to tap into your unconscious mind.
Here’s how it is done:
Number a piece of paper from 1-100.
Title the top of the page: Things I Might Be Denying.
Set a timer for 20 minutes and write as fast as you can without any censoring. Repeat any item as many times as it occurs to you.
The idea is to allow your thoughts to flow. At the end, look over your list and see if any themes emerge. What emotion(s) do they typically trigger?


If you are dealing with an addiction try a 12 Step program. It will not only provide a way out, but give you a room full of other people with similar challenges who can truly relate with compassion and empathy. These days, you can even do a virtual meeting through teleconferencing.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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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

 

Patience: How To Cultivate It May 16, 2011



How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)


Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.
Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC)


“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”
Barbara Johnson


Many years ago, when I was studying with Albert Ellis, he told a story about a man standing on line at the grocery store with half a gallon of ice cream. The line wasn’t moving, and his ice cream was getting softer by the second. He was feeling increasingly annoyed until he realized the line was held up by an elderly blind man. Suddenly, the ice cream didn’t seem so important.


Al brought that up to show us how quickly our feelings change when we think differently. The man adjusted his thoughts in a split second, and his feelings went from impatience to gratitude. The story also illustrates how patience is a beautiful thing once we open to it.


During my childhood, I recall my father saying, “All good things come to those who wait.” If I still felt impatient about something, he would add, “Act in haste, and repent at leisure.” While I now believe he was right, I had already inculcated America’s predilection for instant gratification, and didn’t have the slightest interest in delaying it.


Our culture is far more oriented towards immediate gratification than ever. We seem to have a collective notion that, as long as we put the pedal to the metal, we can achieve whatever we want. I believe both concepts are true and compatible, even though they may seem contradictory. Waiting, resting, and allowing things to develop are just as crucial to our creativity and productivity (whether in work, relationships, or hobbies) as is forging ahead with vision boards, imagery, affirmations, and good old grit.


In America today, waiting is often a close cousin to slothfulness and reviled with every Calvinist molecule we breathe. Patience with the process is not only undervalued, it is often scorned as laziness. But laziness and patience are as different as chalk and cheese. Allowing things to unfold takes a ton of energy and vision, especially, if you are someone for whom “moving forward” is an inner mantra.


Some people actually fear resting and taking it easier because they secretly believe if they ratchet down their activity level they will never be able to crank it up again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rest rejuvenates and energetically prepares you for the tasks at hand.


My colleague, Robyn Posin, PhD., has often said, “Rest is a sacred act.” I couldn’t agree more. By resting you show yourself compassion, recharge your batteries, and allow time for new knowledge to sink in, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. In addition, by cultivating patience with yourself it becomes easier to bestow kindness on others.


Advertising would have you believe that working yourself to the bone is fine, as long as you crack open a beer at the end of the day, go to a spa, or splurge on some other luxury. This lets the stress accrue until it feels as if you have to take a break. On the other hand, regularly giving yourself small treats, as novelist Iris Murdoch once said, is one of the secrets to a happy life. The joy you feel when you take a real break to do a little yoga, eat a leisurely lunch, or read a book softens the challenges of day-to-day living.


Life can be stressful enough without adding extra bricks to your load. Rushing, always pushing yourself to do more, thinking you are only as valuable as what you do, adds as much, if not more, stress than all the things on your to-do list. Often, these stressors feel like “shoulds.” Many years ago Karen Horney, a psychoanalyst, wrote a famous essay called, “The Tyranny of the Shoulds.” She was right in her assessment of how easy it is to be hard on oneself. By challenging these “shoulds” you can free up more time to be patient with whatever you want to achieve, whether it’s personal, professional, or avocational.


When you rush the process, whatever it is, you miss opportunities for growth, peace, and being in the moment. Of course, sitting with what is can be very challenging, especially, when it’s something you don’t want. It’s natural to crave the next better-feeling thing and want it instantly. Giving yourself the gift of patience allows you to digest what is happening now. What’s the rush? Hurrying can keep you from healing self-awareness, being in the moment, and just sitting with your thoughts and feelings. They may not always be fun, or pleasant, but rushing through them is often a guarantee you will have to learn that same lesson, whatever it is, again. If one of your goals in life is radical self-acceptance, practicing patience is surely a helpful strategy.


Here are a few ideas you may want to try if you notice yourself rushing frenetically from one thing to the next:


What “shoulds” rule your life? Take a few minutes to brainstorm. Once you have a list ask yourself where you can scale back, do less, or simply take more time to get something accomplished.


Do you have trouble saying no? If you want more time to rest and slow down, you need to practice feeling the discomfort that can come from not always giving others what they want, and possibly incurring their disappointment or rejection. This is especially true if you think your sense of worth depends on what you do, rather than who you are. Try saying no to one thing every day. How does it feel? If even thinking of saying no creates anxiety, ask yourself if it’s ok for you to really nurture yourself.  Saying no to one thing always means you’re saying yes to something else. Often, it’s the super nurturers who neglect themselves. If saying no has always been a challenge, you may want to read a basic assertiveness book like, “When I Say No, I feel Guilty,” or “The Assertive Option.”


Notice when you are impatient with yourself. Is there a correlation between those times and being over-scheduled? Have you taken on more than you can comfortably do? Practice talking back to that inner voice always egging you on to do more, and radically choose to do less.


Think back to a time when someone was patient with you. Perhaps it was a parent who taught you how to ride a bike, a teacher who helped you learn the alphabet, or a coach who cheered on every little improvement you made. Allow yourself to really feel that expansive, generous space in which you could learn something without rushing, and let it settle in your heart.


Do you find yourself rushing because you try to fit one extra thing into your day? Experiment with crossing things off your list and adding in time to read, rest, listen to music, take an Epsom Salt bath (this replenishes magnesium and relaxes your muscles), have a cup of tea, go for a relaxing walk, or watch the clouds move across the sky. Just be.


Give yourself the gift of more time by scheduling longer intervals between activities. For example, if you routinely take only 15 minutes to get dressed for a night out, leave yourself 30 minutes.


Last but not least, be patient with yourself as you develop this new skill. Patience is like a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it gets.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Finding Joy: A Quick Primer For Introverts February 23, 2010



I was talking with a friend the other day and she said her greatest joys were with other people. Immediately, I foraged through my memory to see where my highest highs had been. While many involved other people, there were plenty of times I was alone when I felt connection, grace, open-heartedness, and a soul soaring oneness with all that is. Once again, I was reminded we don’t have to choose, we can have both delights, with company and alone. There’s even the possibility of oneness with god, or whatever you call the indescribable force greater than you.


The problem with relying on relationships to catalyze your sweetest, deepest, and most profound joy is the dependence it requires. Why limit yourself to only one avenue to bliss? Plenty of people who have eschewed human contact, or lived in monastic silence, have communed with god, nature, and the universe in intensely satisfying ways.


Knowing your capacity for joy does not depend on having intimacy with others is especially important in the aftermath of divorce, break-up or death. Understanding how solitude affords opportunities for spiritual sustenance creates more optimism, confidence, and resilience. The yogis like to say, “That which you seek is already within you.” If you believe relationships are the only path to happiness, you can always deepen your relationship with yourself. There are many routes to ecstasy. Taking a walk in nature, listening to music, watching the clouds drift across the sky, practicing yoga, meditating, or simply focusng your attention on a cup of tea or favorite food.


Relationships, with their knack for holding up a mirror to ourselves, are just as often the cause of misery as miracles. Luckily, our repertoire for achieving bliss is far larger. Of course, human connection can be amazing; and, it is natural to desire it. But, by allowing other experiences to awaken your innate ability to channel joy, and discovering reliable catalysts to heighten your happiness, you can access bliss more easily and feel better more of the time. Whereas, if you wait for rapture with another, you may be emotionally treading water until that person appears. Telling yourself you can only feel your best in relationship limits your spiritual and emotional potential.


If you would like to try a little experiment, just pay attention to one good thing today. It might be petting your cat or dog, it could be eating mindfully, laughing, or finding something new to notice in your environment. Maybe, you just pause and look out the window. By consciously focusing on almost anything, you can expand your delight in living that minute.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Affirmations To Help You through Divorce, Break-Up, or Life Transitions October 22, 2009

 

 

DIRECTIONS:

Make your sweet self a cup of tea or hot chocolate.

Sit somewhere private and comfortable.

Read the following sentences aloud in your most loving, gentle voice.

 

I will be OK.

 

I feel devastated, but I will be fine.

 

I may not be able to see it right now, but everything will work out for my highest good.

 

There’s so much to learn.

 

I am becoming wiser and more compassionate with myself every day.

 

No matter how difficult things feel, the universe is supporting me.

 

I can let myself fully grieve. Grief is a shape-shifter: one minute I may feel furious and the next I could be bargaining for my old life back.  Five seconds later, I’m blue. I  can embrace it all.  It’s my path to transformation.

 

Divorce is a cosmic hazing and it’s only natural to feel emotionally depleted. It’s temporary.  In time, I will feel better than ever.

 

I am constantly evolving into my true self.

 

Up and down, up and down.  The roller coaster of emotion seems never ending, but it will stabilize.

 

I allow my tears to flow, as they are nature’s detoxifiers.

 

I will be joyful again.  Even now, amidst the turmoil, there are moments of grace.

 

I am doing remarkably well.

 

I will get to the other side when I’m ready.

 

I can love myself right now, exactly as I am.

 

I may not like what is true for me now, but I can handle it.

 

I can allow myself to be rocked to my core, it’s appropriate.

 

Nature can always be a refuge: a leaf, a tree, the sky, I let them remind me of life’s glories.

 

I ask God/Spirit to walk with me.

 

In the midst of chaos, I am healing.

 

I am using this crisis as a catalyst for growth.

 

I am gentler and kinder to myself than ever before.

 

I  will be happier than I can imagine.

 

Suffering is just as vital a part of life as joy; I’m here to experience everything.

 

I make it safe to feel all my feelings.

 

There is so much love for me in the world.

 

My soul shines amidst the chaos: luminous and beautiful.





Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have May 31, 2009

 

The most important relationship you’ll ever have is with you.  Considering that you are with yourself every minute of every day, why not make this your most loving alliance?

 

While there are many reasons for not having developed a great bond with yourself, there’s no upside in cataloguing them.  In lieu of focusing on the past, here are some ways to cultivate an enjoyable, dependable, tender relationship with yourself.

 

As the Buddha said: There is no one more deserving of compassion than you.  By fostering a gentle, patient litany of self talk you will reap more benefits than you can imagine. Think of all the harshness you have heaped on yourself. Perhaps, it was setting perfectionistic, unattainable goals, or an incessant catalogue of self-criticism. Decide today that you will counter those old tendencies towards self-downing with tenderness.  If you hear yourself being judgmental of the way you are handling some aspect of your life, stop, take a breath, and talk to yourself kindly, the way you would calm a child.  Those same messages will soothe you and, more importably, build inner trust.  In time, you will be able to count on yourself for compassion and self-nurturing.  You will be that safe haven for you.

 

It may sound banal, but taking good care of yourself begins with eating well, including treats.  Unless you are someone who eats to live, and doesn’t really enjoy your food, eating something delicious every day is another way you show yourself that you matter.  Getting enough sleep is crucial, too.  Just like the people who think they can have one drink and drive, while every study shows they are impaired, many think they can do just fine with six hours a night.  Perhaps, you are one of the very few who can, but most need seven to eight hours to function well.  Last, but not least, is exercise.  Move your body.  It really doesn’t matter what you do, but do something on a regular basis and it will improve your outlook, as well as your physical health.

 

Meditation is a wonderful way to befriend and better understand your mind.  What are its tendencies?  Do you focus on all the tasks that still need doing?  Are you preoccupied with everyone else’s problems, worrying day and night?  Do you live in the future, waiting for your ship to come in, lose 10 pounds, or meet your ideal mate? Whatever your predilections, you can learn to re-focus on your breath and quiet some of the incessant noise.  Meditation is also a great way to notice any tendencies towards self-downing, or habits of assuming the worst.  Once you see a trend you can actively work towards substituting unhelpful thoughts for positive ones. (See Affirmations.)

 

Even your sex life can benefit from a better relationship with yourself.  By getting to know your body’s reactions you can please yourself, if going solo, or help your partner understand what you like, if coupled.

 

Socially, you can develop comfort within yourself, so going out alone is not a hardship; but, something you might choose on a regular basis. After all, you are always available without prior notice and you already know what you like to do.  For many people, this is a very difficult thing to imagine, let alone practice.  I encourage you to bravely go forth: see that movie or art show alone, go out for a meal by yourself (you may want to start with breakfast or lunch as they are often eaten without company), take a beautiful drive or walk (you will notice more when solo), do all those things you know you would enjoy and you’ll probably end up making new friends (all those other folks who like the same thing you do and who didn’t want to call their friends to see who wanted to share the experience).  I am sure that right after people’s fear of public speaking (the number one anxiety in this country), is venturing out by yourself.  Wouldn’t it feel like a great coup to tackle that old irrational belief?  You know, the one that says you’re a loser if you’re alone. You’re not. One third of all adults in the U.S. live by themselves. 

 

Attending to your spiritual side, developing a deep bond with the ineffable qualities of life, and finding peace within are all ways of enhancing your joy.  Trust that you will find your way to that still, small place inside where all goodness dwells.  By practicing being there for yourself, in all circumstances and on all levels, you will watch joy ripen in your heart.  You can choose to feel truly loved right this minute. Don’t take my word for it, just go for it.  It’s a radical step, but one you’ll never regret.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Grace October 20, 2008



“The growth of grace is like the polishing of metals. There is first an opaque surface; by and by you see a spark darting out, then a strong light; ’till at length it sends back a perfect image of the sun that shines upon it.” Edward Payson (1783-1827)


“We’re all stumbling towards the light with varying degrees of grace at any given moment.” Bo Lozoff


“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott




If you choose to you can see grace in everything.  Surely, it was grace that let you take a breath when the grief was so intense you thought your body would implode.  It was grace that, after a night of tears, let you see the beauty of red leaves falling to the ground; and, it was grace that brought a smile to your lips when you saw a young couple holding hands.


The Hasidic Jews practice saying a Hebrew phrase: Baruch Hashem, which roughly translates to “Thank God,” whenever anything happens. So, let’s say you made a huge pot of soup and it’s been simmering all day. You carefully pick it up, but trip on something and it spills its entire contents on the floor.  Why say Baruch Hashem?  Because you’re assuming everything happens for the best; it’s all from God and divine. On a purely pragmatic level, falling at that very second may have prevented something worse from happening.


There’s a fairly well-known story about a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “What makes you think this is not a good thing?”

Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “What makes you think this cannot be a bad thing?”

The family was richer from a good horse, and his son enjoyed riding it. One day, while riding, he fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “What makes you think this is not a good thing?”

A year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the able-bodied men drew their bows and went to battle. Nine out of ten died. But because he was lame the man’s son did not have to fight and was spared.


What do we know?  Why not assume the best?  It’s the nature of life to have balance: yin and yang, light and shadow.  All things contain seeds of their opposite.  If you ever had a baby, you know (consciously or unconsciously) that from the second your child is born they move towards increasing independence, and away from you.  Their self-sufficiency is actually your ultimate goal.


Everything is bittersweet.  The greatest joy ends and the deepest sadness heals.  Perhaps, this ebb and flow from one type of experience to another, is what keeps us so entranced with life.  We’re on an intermittent reinforcement schedule, and there’s no way to predict what’s next.


Nature’s most intense expressions: tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches all end with peace resumed.  Yes, there has been a major upheaval and plenty of damage; but, just like the naturally occurring forest fires, it paves the way for an explosion of new growth. There’s grace in that transformation, just as there’s grace in each of us.  It may be harder to find because of our habitual preference for stability and familiarity, but it’s there.


The entire cycle, from birth to death, is grace incarnate.  Not every minute is joyous, but even suffering can be sweet in its ending, setting the stage for greater delight.




Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
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