“Daring Adventures and the F Word”

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Some of us, during particular life transitions would opt for nothing- a little nothingness, a drop in the adrenaline, a simple diminution of stimuli, or as one of my friends says at times of chaos, “Let me just sit on my bed and suck my thumb.” We long for time to emotionally regroup.

The “daring adventure” that is our life is marked by cycles of change- of loss and reconnection, of dependency and individuation, of deep grief and realizations of renewed growth. Our “hero’s journey,” as Joseph Campbell taught us, is a process that guides, directs, pushes, pulls, and ultimately transforms us along the way from innocent children to wise, mature adults.

Psychologically, life transitions call us to transform the energy of the ego and its childlike ways of expecting the world to take care of us. We are tasked with facing and killing the dragons of defense, our early playmates, who taught us to deny fright and wrongdoing, rationalize deviousness, repress our negative thoughts and project our less than lofty impulses onto others. Repeatedly facing down the small to the deadliest fears rebirths us as warriors, able to protect and nurture ourselves as we grow strong enough to recognize, adapt and finally to enjoy and master completely new terrain.

Campbell tells us that we always have supernatural aid along the journey- so hang onto that belief in guardian angels, no matter in what form they appear. In my life they tend to appear as good friends turning up at crucial times with crucial insights, like a Tinkerbell, focusing my attention on how to handle the crisis of the moment. But one night when I was suffering unbearable pain from multiple broken bones in my shoulder, a more traditional angel friend showed up, dressed in gossamer white. She took me to an icy kingdom, which numbed my body and allowed for much-needed blessed sleep.

Angelic friends are folks you can cry in front of. Sometimes, before we take on the dragons, we have to fall apart and weep, say we can’t possibly do it, we can’t bear it, we didn’t even think we’d signed up for this particular trip. And our friends hold us and soothe us and remind us of who we really are… wonderfully intelligent souls, filled with the energy of the gods, and ready to take our rightful place at the vey center of our lives. As one woman said to me toward the end of a conflict-ridden divorce- “I’m taking back my power, my money, and my magic.”

The benefit from every life transition small or large, is the magic of transformed consciousness. This happens in three ways: through greater Awareness, Acceptance, and Action. Three A’s. When we survive and complete each journey, we have a deeper awareness of our values and our self in relation to the world. We accept ourselves, our shortcomings, our skills and our gifts, as well as our current life situation. And we discover greater courage to take the next action steps toward our goals.

There is an important F word involved here- the word is Forgiveness. Often, it’s the most decisive part of this equation. Self-forgiveness, or forgiveness of past wrongs, is the door that opens to the other three. It brings inner peace. To learn more about the benefits of forgiveness, and how to do it, order Megan Feldman Bettencourt’s new book, Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World.

http://meganfeldman.com/books/
As a trauma psychologist, I know how crucial forgiveness is to every part of our life cycle. Give yourself that gift.
Many blessings, and thanks to my daughter for writing this important book.
Gail
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Your Creative New Year!

Georgia 001-georgia-o-keefe-theredlistO’Keefe said, “The days you work are the best days.” She was referring to her art, of course, which was her passion. In this New Year, let’s begin to view all of our work as our art. In doing so, every activity in which we invest our passionate energy will become our personal creativity.

In my book, From Crisis To Creativity, now in its third edition, I define creativity as “the art of growing self-expression.” In every way that we express an idea, a thought, a plan, a feeling, we give someone – including ourselves – a gift.

Mexican artist Frida Kahalo painted her first significant self-portrait following an accident that nearly killed her. She gave the lovely Italian Renaissance-style painting to her boyfriend, so that he would always remember her. This gift to her first love was an obvious memento. The gift to herself was less obvious, but more profound. It was a declaration that she had survived. After this, Kahalo chose to be a painter rather than a doctor. Following each of more than thirty operations, she made bold representations of herself, each oneThinking-About-Death nearly shouting that she lived, despite her wounds and her physical and emotional pain. She lived and lives on through her gifts of art.
Businesswoman Ruth Handler is best known for creating Barbie and Ken, teenage stars of her mega-toy company, Mattel. In the 1970s, she survived a radical mastectomy from breast cancer, and from her grief came the idea for a comfortable, natural breast prosthesis. She worked with technicians from her company to create the “Nearly Me” line of breast replacements and from her vision manifested a gift to many other women.
Sarah Dixon studied to be a teacher. This young woman was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, genetic problems that gave her parents little hope that she would live to adulthood. Like Frida Khalo, Sarah has had thirty operations to restore physical functions. She now lives, works, studies, and even completed a trip around the world. Sarah reminds us to respect every life experience for its inherent growth and creative potential. Her life and poetry exemplify the “determined overcoming” which is the hallmark of the resilient and creative person.
Near the end of writing From Crisis To Creativity, I meditated about whether the book contained enough inspirational stories and useful information. The message I received was, “Enjoy the light that you create. Search no further to find brilliance outside of yourself. The light, the love, that you create every single day, from within and in interaction with others, will nourish you and bring you joy.”
So, in the second month of this New Year, turn within and trust that with mere intention you will manifest your gifts, your own brand of resiliency, brilliance and creativity.
The following questions might help you envision and clarify what you desire for this year:
What is Spirit’s Highest Vision for my life in 2015?
Who must I Become?
What must I Release?
What must I Embrace?
Is there anything else I need to Know at this time?

Many Blessings,

Gail

 

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A NEW YEAR – A NEW LIFE!

A NEW YEAR – A NEW LIFE!
This is literally true for me this year as my third grandson, Santiago, was born on January 6th – a new and precious life. Last year, however, 2014, marked the passing of my closest friend and colleague, Dr. Marcia Landau. Over forty years, she helped me through every loss and life change, large and small. Like a mother, sister, mentor and angel, her wisdom flowed freely, along with a loving, unwavering faith in me. I thought I’d never be able to face her death, but now I know she taught me so Santiagothoroughly to believe in myself that I internalized that belief. Her strengths are now my strengths.

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” Rumi

Using that lovely metaphor, I can choose to open to all that was achieved and honor all that was lost in the past year, then let it go, feeling whole, grateful and complete. I can take hold of all that I wish to enjoy and achieve in this new year, and then release it to the Universe for manifestation, as I do my part to bring it forth.

So I choose to acknowledge the following achievements in this past year:

1. The first is in public speaking. In college, I was terrified to even announce my name, let alone ask questions in class. I never would have predicted that over the next years, I would have given over 100 talks in different types of venues and different parts of the world. Last year I spoke in San Diego, Albuquerque, Verona, Italy and Vienna, Austria. Not only were the talks well-received, I was blessed with being able to visit many cities in Europe on two different trips, both times enjoying the inspired art, amazing architecture and magnificent music.

2. The second area I acknowledge is in my professional coaching.

I reached a milestone in the number of my coaching clients, and their glowing testimonials provide proof that I’ve achieved a high level of competence and skill in helping them accomplish personal and professional goals with ease and velocity. My own coach has had to hold this vision for me, as I doubted my ability to develop such expertise, after so many years of single-minded focus on clinical psychology. (Thank you for your support and wisdom, Janis Pullen. Thank you for your persistence in learning, Gail Feldman)

3. The third area is foundational. In order to achieve all that I have in my career, I’ve had to learn to love myself. I mean really love myself! That required many creative practices to stop judging myself harshly. My ego was skilled at holding me hostage to old false beliefs of not being “good enough, smart enough, deserving enough for _______________.”

Loving myself meant learning to forgive myself constantly for the misdemeanors, as well as the major “crimes” that would keep me ruminating and up at night. “How could I have said that? How could I have failed to notice what that person really needed? How could I be such an idiot? What did I do wrong that _______ doesn’t seem to want to see me anymore?”

I had to stop contracting; practice opening and expanding and letting those things go. And then love myself again in spite of, and because of, everything.

“My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.”

Ellen DeGeneres

What will you acknowledge and honor about 2014?
What can you release, bless and be complete with?

What will you claim for yourself in 2015?

What will your new created-life look like?

How will you create balance in your life this year?

Let’s make sure we have both the pina and the colada!
Many Blessings,

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Triumph of the Heart

My daughter, Megan Feldman, is an award-winning journalist and the author of, Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World, which is coming out next year from Penguin.

Megan Feldman

Megan

Last month she gave a TEDx talk in Boulder, CO and it’s now posted on YouTube. It’s just 10 minutes long and you’ll be glad you watched it.
“Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World.”  http://ow.ly/E2GLM
This is how her book came about:

Azim Khamisa, international peace activist and director of three foundations that teach non-violence and conflict resolution, was the feature of an article Megan wrote for Spirit Magazine two years ago. The story of how Azim forgave his son’s killer and went on to reach millions of middle and high school students around the world with his message of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation drew such huge response that New York publishers began asking her to write a book on this topic. And so, she birthed a book, and in January will give birth to a baby boy.
Following are excerpts from Azim’s November newsletter:
“I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?'”

~ Eve Merriam
“Santa is really the only cultural icon we have who’s male, does not carry a gun, and is all about peace, joy, giving, and caring for other people”

   ~ Anonymous
I do believe in the understanding that we are one human race. In spite of the color of our skin, our religious orientation, our socioeconomic status, our gender, or sexual orientation, or our nationality, we can get that we are ONE human race and ONE global family! If we don’t get that, we will never get to peace. And what is more important than getting to peace?

It would be the most cherished gift of any holiday season.
I am very saddened that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. On this Veterans Day first and foremost let us pray for the souls of these men and women, and let us pray for their families so they may have the strength to continue in the absence of their loved ones.

Veterans need much more help. They need to be acknowledged as the heroes of our society. There needs to be substantially more effort in helping and caring for them in a meaningful way.
I have often wondered how to bring my message of self-forgiveness to the veterans. This is important for them to learn and could potentially save the lives of many. However I have no connections into the military. If any of my readers have access to the military I would be happy to bring my work to the veterans. I do believe it has relevance to veterans who may be suffering as a result of the violence they experienced and perpetrated in the line of duty.

If you’d like to contact Azim, just go to www.azimkhamisa.com
Make a holiday season filled with Love!
Many Blessings,
Gail

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What Do We Choose to Remember? Let’s Say Yes to the Beauty of Life!

“Art is God’s way of saying hello,” wrote Neale Donald Walsch. God said hello to me every day for two weeks during my recent tour of towns and cities along the Danube River in Europe. Expert guides led us through ancient castles, magnificent palaces and stupendous cathedrals,.

As we traveled, my awe at the Gothic cathedrals, baroque concert halls and ethereal art would often give way to contemplation and depression upon hearing of the local history’s constant wars, and the brutal lives of the peasants and slaves who built these monuments.Cathedral at Melk

I learned about King Ludvig II, who ascended the Bavarian throne at 18, a shy, isolated boy whose interests lay in nature, poetry, fantasy, and architecture. He withdrew from politics and spent his time and money creating palaces and castles. Best-known among these may be Neuschwanstein (“New Swan-on-the-Rock Castle”) a dramatic Romanesque fortress with soaring fairy-tale towers. It’s been said that Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Disneyland.

When Ludvig’s ministers grew tired of his spending and his lack of interest in governing, they concocted a plan to have him declared insane. Four psychiatrists who had never examined him declared him “incapable of ruling” and he was taken from his castle and kept captive at Castle Berg on Lake Starnberg. He was found dead shortly after, declared drowned in waist-high water, even though he was known to be a strong swimmer. He then became known as “The Mad King.”

Such schemes and machinations of power – still alive and well today – invite us to consider how we view historical figures and history itself. Do we choose judgment and despair at mankind, and thus feel victimized by the greed and the violence inherent in world history?

I was tempted to hold this view after I visited Thereinstadt, the first concentration camp that psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl lived in before he was sent to other labor and death camps. Needless to say, witnessing the place where 33,000 people died of disease and starvation, and seeing the furnaces and the graves, was a deeply sad and humbling experience.

I had to remind myself of how Frankl himself chose to respond to the loss of his family, his own near-death in the camps and the devastation the Nazis wrought on his beloved Austria. He refused to embrace the concept of “collective guilt” of the German people, but instead insisted upon individual responsibility, which he applied both to the Nazis’ crimes, and the survivors’ personal responsibility to endure and overcome suffering in order to live and love. “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire,” he wrote.

Frankl chose compassion and acceptance, and committed himself to service as a physician, as well as writing and lecturing on existential, humanistic psychology. One of his 39 books, Man’s Search for Meaning, continues to be a bestseller after nearly 70 years. He was passionate about his message: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

After my recent trip, I chose to remember the magnificence and the timelessness of the cathedrals, the opulence of the palaces, and the otherworldly beauty of the castles I visited, as I feel they represent the legacy and the gift from all of the populations who lived before me. Frankl loved mountain-climbing, and he delighted in every tree, bird and flower he saw. The subtitle to one of his early book titles was: “Say Yes to Life in Spite of Everything!” In my case, I could amend this to: “Say Yes to Life Because of Everything!” How privileged I am to be able to see so much beauty in life. How much beauty can you see in yours?

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From Victim to Victorious

photo_web My daughter, Megan, and I just returned from presenting talks at a meeting of social psychologists in Verona, Italy on the topic of psychological perspectives on collective victimhood. Academics from around the world shared research on the effects of genocide on groups, both victims and perpetrators. I was the only clinical psychologist and I spoke about the intensity of traumatic grief and the risks of self-harm and revenge killing if grief work is not facilitated. Megan, the only journalist, she spoke of her time in Rwanda researching her upcoming book and learning about the restorative justice practices and the forgiveness work being done there.
While the social psychologists focused on social science research on the factors that prevent reconciliation and some societal features that can facilitate it, Megan and I shared personal stories and interventions that allow individual victims to resolve their grief, find compassion, and reconnect with community.
Whether the focus is the group or the individual, I realized that we all have the same goal- to find ways of bringing resilience and empowerment to those who’ve been victimized and stop the cycles of violence and post-trauma symptoms being passed down to new generations.
After the conference, Meg and I went on to Florence and Rome to revel in some of the most magnificent art on the planet. The opportunity to see Michelangelo’s “David” again after many years was as thrilling as the first time, and it called to mind the story of David and Goliath. Most of us heard the story as the shepherd boy who somehow slew the giant with his sling-shot. The new story, however, thanks to *Malcolm Gladwell’s research, tells us that Goliath, the Philistine who challenged and terrified Saul’s army of Israelites, likely had acromegaly, or gigantism, a disorder with side effects of poor vision and awkward movements.
David, on the other hand, was a shepherd, but also a “slinger,” used to killing lions and other predators to protect his flock. In ancient times, armies had divisions of slingers as part of their artillery units. The rock David used had the power of a .45 caliber handgun. His skill, plus tremendous faith in the rightness of his mission, guaranteed his success and led to his becoming king of Israel.
Michelangelo captures this David in his monumental sculpture (17 feet tall) – a powerful young man holding a rock in his right hand, the leather sling over his left shoulder. David had no doubts that he would prevail over the giant and convinced Saul to let him be the man to do it.
Seeing Michelangelo’s David after attending a conference on mass victimization had me contemplating victims and how we think of them as weakened and diminished. One dictionary refers to them as “helpless.” While all this is true, in addition to injury, suffering and loss, the survivors I work with and the individuals and groups Megan interviewed in Rwanda strike me as being more like David. They have the courage and resolve required to process traumatic grief and re-generate a new life. To me, this is the very definition of resilience.
Survivors who thrive are willing to confront the giants of the past and present using everyday practices like sharing, journaling, meditation, service, prayer and forgiveness. They are able to re-create themselves, connect with others, and contribute.
What “giants” are intimidating or limiting you from being the Champion you are meant to be? How can you practice being confident and clear as you move forward to achieve your goals? How will you recognize the obstacles you’ve already overcome and the training you’ve received in order to be victorious?
Michelangelo created David from a block of marble that had been seen as defective and was rejected by other sculptors. Whatever human fallibilities you see in yourself, they’re nothing compared to the possibility and greatness that is within you.

Come into full bloom this summer!
Blessings,
Gail

*Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book is, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

 

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Extreme Friendship

My closest friend of 41 years died last week. Dr Marcia Landau was a brilliant psychologist, professor, writer and therapist. She offered me what I can only describe as, “extreme friendship.” Like a mother or a devoted sister, she was always available. She would do anything for me, even when it was not in her best interest. Like the time my closest male friend died suddenly and I learned about it at night when my husband and daughters were on a camping trip, unreachable. Of course I called Marcia and she drove across town to spend the night with me even though I protested because her poor eyesight prevented her from night driving.

Marcia dealt with chronic, life-threatening asthma her entire adult life, as well as several bouts of cancer and numerous surgeries. These were always forgotten in her enthusiasm for the next international trip, the next academic paper, the next psychoanalytic meeting, the next group supervision, or her deep compassion for a patient or a friend in need. Her relentless life energy brought her through so many physical crises, we thought she would never die. But of course she did- at 73.

Marcia embodied these words of George Bernard Shaw: “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

Marcia’s body was “thoroughly used up” when she died, but her spirit was thoroughly alive because she loved so well.

I was wondering why I wasn’t feeling desperately sad after her services and I think I know the reason. Over all of these years of fearing her death, I was learning to internalize her love. I feel so filled with her love that now I feel her presence everywhere- from the white butterfly flitting around outside my office window and the breeze blowing around me, to the roses on my terrace, the goldfinches perched in the Crepe Myrtle tree at my dining room window, and the smell of honeysuckle that seems to follow me far beyond the driveway as I leave my house. My senses have been heightened, so that I feel lighter and happier than I have been in a very long time.

Who has given you “extreme friendship?” How can you give that love to others?

A constant realization of the presence of Spirit will provide a sense of Divine Companionship that no other attitude could produce.”

-Ernest Holmes-

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