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This blog is now integrated with my Website, cushnir.com. Please check out the latest entry over there. Also, please re-subscribe there as well to keep receiving new blog entries.
Requesting Input for a Landmark Interview Series
What teachers of personal growth and spirituality would you most like to hear sharing their own personal triggers and challenges?
The idea of permanent enlightenment is harmful. It creates a false perception that something is wrong with, or missing from, someone who hasn’t yet reached such a state. It also can create a sense of entitlement in personal growth and spiritual leaders that leads to egregious abuses of power.
Therefore, among the greatest gifts that such leaders can give their followers is transparency. When a teacher allows his or her students to see the human foibles and challenges that inevitably exist “behind the curtain” of projection, it makes that teacher more vaulable, not less. In fact, only then can the deepest transmission take place.
In that spirit, in 2012, I’m launching a series of interviews with some of the most popular and impactful teachers of our time. It’s called, “Teaching What We Need to Learn.” Together, these teachers and I will discuss what challenges us, where we still get stuck, and how our own triggers get in the way of pure presence and realization.
You’d be surprised at some of the luminaries who’ve already agreed to take part in the series (more on that soon). You probably wouldn’t be surprised that many turn down the invitation. When someone is invested in being perceived as an expert, authority or master, it can be very uncomfortable, even threatening, to share so personally.
Which brings us to you. I’m excited to reach out to a wide array of teachers. Anyone who offers great principles and practices for healing, growth, empowerment, success and realization is a potential guest.
So – who do you love? Whom should I definitely reach out to? Please email me with any and all suggestions.
Plus, if you have a direct line to anyone on your list, or know how best to get through to the person, please include that as well.
This isn’t about how a particular leader met a challenge in the past and came away with a teaching story. It’s about what’s happening now for that leader, in the rawest, realest sense.
Thank you in advance for helping me create an offering that highlights what we all share. Thank you for contributing to a new model of mastery for the 21st century, one in which the greatest power emerges from honoring our greatest, and most precious, vulnerability.
Please stay tuned for information about when and how to tune in. Please forward this email to spread the word, and share with via social media.
Gratitude, it’s said, is the greatest gift. It opens the heart like nothing else. Yet what is an open heart called to do? How is it meant to live in the world of stress and crisis that ever more presses in upon us?
The first imperative of an engaged heart is to include, to say “yes” to all that we want and need for our well-being, but also to that which we don’t want and see as a “problem.” We need to love it all just because it is, it exists, and is therefore a part of the indisputable whole of existence.
The second imperative of an engaged heart is to expand, to create a safe and sufficient space in which all that is can be seen clearly, honored fully, and met with the transformative power of love. An engaged heart isn’t just an organ, or a “chakra,” but it’s also a way of being. That way of being exists not solely within us, but also, and especially, between us.
Today, the space between us has been overrun by forces of fear, greed, and domination. These forces aim to separate, distract, and disempower us, to keep us focused on just getting by when in fact the very foundation of our society is crumbling.
All the challenges we now face are surmountable, but only if we meet them head on in a sincere attempt to solve them. And that is exactly what is not happening among the “powers that be.” Instead, those powers are shouting louder and louder, proclaiming to have the answers while actually just enacting, and perpetuating, the crisis.
They’ve taken the space we all share, but it doesn’t belong to them. In order for love to triumph, we need to take it back.
The word “occupy,” in this context means precisely that – to take back space. That’s why the Occupy Movement is providing us all with a singular opportunity, and a priceless gift. To sit, camp, and march are all ways of claiming the necessary space for a different way of life to emerge. It’s not the whole process, of course, but it is the crucial beginning.
Stay tuned for how this relates to you, personally. As for the world at large, let’s dispense with the idea that the Occupy Movement is hampered by not having a clear message. It’s message is totally clear – this space belongs to us, all of us, and it’s our collective right and responsibility to decide how we shall live in it together.
We were all taught to change the system from within, to write letters to the editor and elect leaders who share our convictions. But in the space that the movement is taking back it’s easier than ever to see that this is currently impossible. Our system of government has been overrun as well. It works mostly against us, and on behalf of the most powerful.
Out there in the encampments, and in the arduous consensus building sessions that determine the movement’s actions, participants are experimenting with real democracy, incredibly messy but also deeply invigorating compared to the stranglehold we all witness in our nation’s capital.
They’re also doing a familiar dance with the police, in which attention gets diverted to who did what to whom, and who’s the most significant public threat. While issues of police brutality are real, as are concerns of a possible federal crackdown on the right of assembly for non-violent citizens, it’s important that we don’t divert our energy or attention from the heart of the matter: the protesters are out there to allow us renewed breathing room, to restore the space necessary for us to create real, positive change.
But here’s the thing. That change won’t likely come from the protesters. Nor, as we’ve so painfully seen, will it come from a well-meaning leader at the top of a corrupt pyramid of power.
Truth is, the answers we’re seeking to create a sustainable, humane world already exist. They’ve been clear to many for a long time.
At the top of the list, we need to reform our political process so that elections can’t be bought.
We need to recognize that corporations do amazing things, but also amazingly horrible things. That’s because they exist to make money and are legally obligated to pursue no other goal. Therefore, we need to strip their rights as people, one way or another, and grant them freedom to operate only to the degree that they enrich the common good.
We need to recognize that the financial services industry has come to serve itself, mostly, and one way or another needs to be reshaped and redirected.
We need to renounce the idea of empire, and in so doing reduce our enormous global military footprint.
We need to direct vast resources from the military, no longer needed for empire, toward rebuilding services and infrastructure that put people and the environment first.
Though the list goes on, let’s leave it with one last critical item. We need to stop proclaiming how much we love our children while simultaneously, through our policies and endless budget cuts, demonstrating how little we care for them. We need to invest in schools, and enrichment of all kinds, to foster the development of children into healthy, creative, resilient beings.
Did you notice how close that list came to sounding like a political platform? Have you heard parts of it many times before? That’s both a testament to the fact that the answers are already out there, and also to the near-impossibility of turning them into a reality.
Which leads us back to the Occupy Movement. Another way to describe the essential purpose of the movement is to generate the conditions in which meaningful change could, once again, be possible. And in order for change to be possible, we have to actually believe that it’s possible.
With each new protest, and with each new protester joining up to help take back our space, it becomes that much easier to believe we have the power to create the world we envision.
But how? Honestly? The American system of government is not going to be overthrown any time soon, nor do most Occupy protesters want to take part in the daily grind of governing. We’re starting to believe that real fairness can actually be restored in our society, but we have no idea how to do it.
We do know what not to do – and that’s go the way of the Tea Party. While it’s true that much genuine upset and concern about our world was given voice by the Tea Party, it was soon coopted by the Republicans.
Now, it’s unintended role in government is to protect the rich. You can see that especially in the way that many associated with the Tea Party attempt to demonize the Occupy protesters, calling them “un-American,” demanding that they “get a job” and “take a bath.”
So the Occupy movement sees that peril and refuses to be coopted by the Democrats. Excellent. By taking that stance, however, the movement risks having achieved the climate in which change can happen, while at the same time making sure that change doesn’t happen.
In other words, those who benefit from the status quo are watching the struggles in the street and rubbing their hands together with glee. “Go ahead,” they’re thinking. “Keep opting out of our broken system and we’ll happily remain in charge of it. The louder you chant ‘Another world is possible,’ the more easily we’ll be able to keep pulling the strings behind the scenes.”
In the words of Robert Frost, “The way out is always through.” Here, that means bringing all our newly reclaimed space back into the system, rolling up our sleeves and re-entering the electoral process.
Step one, occupy the Democratic Party. And the Republican Party, too, for that matter. On our own terms. Right now, too, since every single member of congress is up for reelection in less than one year. Specifically, it means running and funding a slate of candidates who aren’t beholden to the power elites and who support a fair and humane agenda.
If that doesn’t work, step two is to create a new party that’s whole reason for being is to promote such an agenda.
Step three — there is no step three. Change is possible, but only in the halls of power where decisions are made. In some countries it’s possible to storm those halls of power by force, or to change the way they operate by taking to the streets, but not here. Not now under the current circumstances. To occupy the halls of power, we must be willing to work within them. Long and hard. Tirelessly.
And that’s the way it is, too, with each of us as individuals. An uplifitng book, or workshop, or TED talk takes back the space, temporarily, from the great, fearful “No!” inside us. Within that reclaimed space, suddenly personal transformation seems possible. Which is exactly when the real work begins.
What is that work? It’s a moment by moment accounting of our attention, intention, and execution. Let’s take these one at a time. To account for our attention means becoming aware of what we’re aware of. This is one of the most challenging of human ambitions.
It includes a heartfelt willingness to become aware of what we’re not yet aware. This is commonly known as shadow-work. It includes not just our own personal shadows, but also the shadows cast by the society to which we belong. The author John Berger once said, “We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. ”
When we make that choice, to look everywhere, especially into the dark, and at what is most unsightly, the possibility for change is birthed right then and there.
Accounting for our intentions means taking the time, and energy, to find out what we truly want. Often what we think we want is very different from the results of such an earnest investigation. That’s because the left hemisphere of our brains tell us stories about what we want, and then sells them hard, while the right hemisphere of our brains is the one having the actual experience.
By choosing to pay attention to our intentions in a deliberate way, giving each hemisphere a full hearing, we’re then able to distinguish the signal of our own heart’s call from all the noise obscuring it.
Accounting for the execution of our intentions means taking complete responsibility for everything we say and do. Everything we say and do , it becomes clear, either brings us closer to our goals or sends us further afield. It’s that simple. As soon as we witness ourselves going off-course, we always have the opportunity, in the very next moment, to course-correct.
With this trinity of attention, intention, and execution, and a community of support along with us, another world truly is possible.
The Occupy Movement, therefore, offers us a wonderful opportunity to take its message to heart personally, to cultivate all the inner space necessary for revitalized self-engagement.
Still, on its own, personal transformation is incomplete. And so, too, is social transformation. To work on yourself is to work on the world. To work on the world is to work on yourself. Together, and only together, they make us whole.
During the long exhale of this week, when our gratitude is front and center, perhaps we can recommit ourselves to that wholeness. Perhaps we can even Occupy Black Friday, once and for all elevating the needs of people, and the planet, above the siren song of stuff.
Now more than ever, our lives depend upon it.
There are many healing modalities that use force to create shift and release. Think of deep tissue massage, for example. In the realm of emotional healing, many similar modalities exist. Some, for example, want you to scream out your pain, or smash through your ego’s defenses.
Other methods are much gentler. Think of Reiki or other forms or energy work. In the realm of emotional healing, similar approaches exist here, too. In some therapies you might talk about your issues for months, even years before touching the real pain beneath. Or, you might work to strengthen a fragile self-esteem and avoid the healing process altogether.
In my view, the best way forward isn’t by looking at this question as an either/or. It’s truly both/and. What I’m suggesting is that the best healing techniques are always gentle and powerful. They work with the flow of Presence, and Spirit, rather than against it.
I learned this many years ago, regarding my own body, when I found an energy worker who didn’t touch me at all. Yet at the end of our sessions I felt the healing power of ten deep-tissue massages. Plus, I wasn’t sore afterward and my muscles didn’t need to recover.
Now, back to the emotional realm. I’ve watched many people get “hit over the head” by a coach or spiritual teacher. While on the “hot seat,” they seem to break open to a new dimension of freedom. However, since the healing wasn’t integrated, these people usually revert back to their usual state quite quickly.
On the other hand, what I love about Emotional Connection is that big changes happen for people without them even knowing. They get an expansive release, both at once and even more so over time, but they’re not aware of how much healing has actually occured until the changes in their lives start showing up everywhere.
Recently, after experiencing emotional connection, a client shared her feedback. “The work is so gentle,” she said. “And also so powerful.”
I’d love to know if this idea of gentle and powerful resonates with you. If so, what techniques in any realm have you found that best balance both. If you disagree with my assessment, please share why, and what techniques have worked for you that don’t incorporate this balance.
Recently I was working with a client who couldn’t break through his problem with clutter. I suggested a sensitive, practical, easy way forward. I asked, “Does that seem do-able?” He laughed and replied, “Oh, it’s do-able, but the question is – will I do it?”
This client is a great stand-in for most of us, whether we’re trying to lose weight, overcome an addiction, shift out of unhealthy patterns, treat ourselves better, or heal long-debiliating trauma.
We know exactly what to do, and even have help in the way of therapists and coaches of all sorts. Still, we find ourselves unable to stay focused on, and complete, the necessary practices.
I’ve come to see a fundamental paradox in how we approach transformation. On the one hand, we pay lip service to the idea of oneness, of interdepence, of our deep connection and need for one another. On the other hand, when faced with our greatest challenges, we usually try to pull ourselves up by the bootstaps and do it all alone.
For example, I tell all my clients to be in touch between appointments, whenever something important comes up to ask or share. Many don’t, for fear of bothering me or overstepping boundaries, even though I implore them to “err on the side of over-communicating.”
Back to my client with the clutter. I asked him a follow-up question. “What if there were a caring acquaintance right beside you during your attempts at de-cluttering? If that person were a silent support, a resonating presence, but also available to listen and reflect what came up for you moment by moment, would it make a difference?”
There was a pause, then my client began to cry. He was so moved by the idea, it was instantly clear we’d struck gold.
But how could we arrange for such a person to support my client? Who could be there, on-call, rather than on an appointment basis?
Isn’t that the same key question for all of us? Isn’t the moment of truth so often at 1 a.m. when you’re reaching for that bag of chips? Or for whatever it is that will ease your present discomfort but ultimately make the situation worse?
For this reason I’m constantly looking for new ways to touch base with my clients in between sessions. I want, as much as humanly possible, to be available to them at these pivotal moments.
Still, it’s not enough. We need to be accompanied in our darkest, most challenging times in a way that rarely exists in today’s incredibly isolating culture.
Even for those of us with friends and family members who would like to support us in such a way, the complex nature of those relationships, and the challenges those people face in their own lives, makes them unlikely candidates.
That’s why I’ve begun imaging a new kind of occupation. I call the job professional communing. A Communer is nearby, on stand-by, especially during your most vunerable times of day. A Communer has been trained to accompany but not lead, to hold space, to invite you into the deepest possible connection to the emotions that are underlying your difficulty. A Communer will come close, or back off, as you wish.
Your first thought may be, “Incredible! But impossible! The whole thing would have to cost a fortune.” That’s probably right. But I wonder if it would actually cost less than what we pay as a society for the ravages of addiction, depression, anxiety, etc.
You might also think this sounds kind of like an AA sponsor. That’s true, but without a particular spiritual perspective, and available for the whole array of difficult life experience, not just for addiction.
I wonder if a lot of people would be drawn to a one year training program, following which they’d be eligible to provide this essential human service for a low but reasonable salary. Perhaps we’re not ready yet for something like this, but it’s time to start spreading the idea.
I’ve also brainstormed the idea of an online exchange, where you could offer this service to others and also procure it for yourself, approaching such partnerships with confidence knowing that everyone in the exchange has been trained and vetted. Along with that, I envision, you’d be able to touch base with people in an exploratory way, to assess your mutual “fit,” before actually beginning a relationship of support.
I know all this may seem like pie in the sky. But don’t many significant social shifts, before they eventually become commonplace?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle lies inside us. I saw this when working with another client who just couldn’t lose fifty life-threatening pounds. She tried everything to no avail. I suggested a Communer, knowing that she had the financial means to pay for the whole thing herself. I even offered to find great local candidates.
At first my client agreed, but then quickly backed out. It seemed too shameful to need such support, and too hard to actually put it into practice.
So it’s clear that the obstacles to our becoming a Communer culture are serious, both within and without. But imagine how all our lives would change, dramatically, beautifully, if it ever came to be.
Have you ever heard of “exposure therapy”? It’s state of the art for phobias. Say you’re afraid to fly. A skilled exposure therapist would walk you gently through a number of dry runs in the office, attending to all your worries and fears. Then you’d try it for real, taking it one moment at a time, perhaps with the therapist right there in the seat next to you.
It wouldn’t be easy at first, but following that virgin flight the next ones would be easier. After awhile your primitive brain would successfully update, such that future plane flights would cause no panic at all, and instead would become mostly routine.
The work of Emotional Connection, in essence, is inner exposure therapy. After gentle, repeated run-throughs in which we bring compassionate presence to previously unbearable emotional states, we no longer respond to those emotions like they’re threatening our very survival.
So how does Emotional Connection apply to anxiety?
Truth is, anxiety is not an emotion. It’s a particularly visceral form of emotional resistance. Even though anxiety itself can seem intolerable, our primitive brains deem it less threatening than the core emotion that triggers it in the first place.
Once we’re in the grip of anxiety, there’s no chance we’ll have to experience that core emotion directly. From the point of view of the primitive brain, mission accomplished.
From the point of view of any anxiety sufferer, of course, there’s got to be a better way. And there is, presented here by way of a recent client breakthrough.
My client – we’ll call him Gary – suffered debilitating panic attacks. Panic attacks are anxiety to the nth degree. Nothing, not even medication, was keeping Gary’s panic at bay, as several emergency room visits and repeated in-patient psychiatric stays attested.
I had the good fortune to be with Gary as a panic attack came on. I guided him to experience it directly, in his body, one moment at a time. My counter-intuitive instruction was to turn into the anxiety, rather than away from it. To “surf it,” no matter how terrifying the waves. This was inner exposure therapy, round one.
After about two minutes, the anxiety cleared, leaving Gary face to face with even greater waves of anger, grief and shame. Here, too, I supported Gary in more surfing. Inner exposure therapy, round two.
There was lots of shaking, and tears, and diversions into thought. But after about five minutes, Gary experienced a relative calm. And a sense that his world was now different.
Why? Because he knew, from his own direct experience, that there was something he himself could do when gripped by anxiety. Something that worked. With no side effects.
Plus, he saw with convincing clarity that the anxiety had been blocking his core emotions. He saw that once he was able to experience those emotions directly, the anxiety was no longer present or necessary.
In working with hundreds of clients with similar challenges, I feel confident most people can clear their own anxiety the same way Gary did. In doing so, their brains get rewired so that future bouts of anxiety are less intense and more easily surfed.
It’s not easy, of course, but it is simple. If you suffer from anxiety, and are willing to embark upon “the wave less traveled,” a renewed life awaits you on shore.
If you have questions or comments about this approach, or would like to schedule a session to experience it first-hand, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my private sessions and workshops, people increasingly lament the overwhelming stress of their lives. Just getting by in today’s culture often stretches us to the breaking point.
We humans, it seems, have manufactured a way of life completely out of sync with our evolution as a species. Our bodies can’t handle what our minds have wrought. Many of us have the chronic illnesses to prove it.
And now, with the Western economic collapse and the shrinking middle class, the crisis has grown significantly worse. Most of us are forced to work far longer for much less. Our standard of living is a far cry from that of our parents. We have almost no opportunity to relax, play, or just be.
Plus, the rise of cell phones and similar devices makes it incredibly addictive to live in the land of elsewhere rather than in our immediate surroundings.
To remedy this, we head to retreat centers, yoga classes and meditation groups. But as soon as those experiences end, we head back to our hyper-speed lives. Ironically, our time-outs help us better tolerate what we don’t want and can’t sustain.
We’ve become like those slowly boiling frogs, of legend, who keep acclimating to the rising temperature of the water instead of just jumping out. While some among us keep hollering about how hot it’s getting, the majority of us in the developed world show no signs of the rebellious fervor suddenly so prevalent in the Middle East.
Which puzzles and troubles me.
Back in the Sixties and Seventies, all kinds of people branched out from mainstream culture to experiment with alternatives. They founded communes, ashrams, and organic farms. These ventures, though often deeply flawed, provided an opportunity to live more in accord with one’s vision, values, and natural rhythms.
Today, it’s easy to make fun of these alternative communities for all their excesses. Yet much of what we now esteem as “well being” grew directly out of these experiments.
So where are today’s similar experiments? When people have had enough, when they want to jump off the careening treadmill of contemporary life, where can they land? Where can they support one another in presence, connection, and the breathing room necessary to, well, breathe?
In my experience – and to me this is truly troubling – such places are few and far between. People don’t really feel like they can stop careening, like there’s anywhere to go, without taking a vow of poverty or dropping out of society altogether.
Does this trouble you, too? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
I’d also love to hear your recommendations for conscious, grounded, alternative communities currently open to individuals and families anywhere in the world. If you know of such communities in the planning stages, please share that info, too.