Monday, May 23, 2016

Meditation Monday: Accepting the Unexpected

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

We all know the stereotype of a meditation practice—sitting with pretzel legs, eyes closed, palms on knees with middle finger touching the thumb. And that is a perfectly fine way to meditate. But for those who don’t think they can sit too long in that position, there are plenty of other options. Take, for instance, a tea meditation.

A meditation focusing on tea can take many forms. The idea is to mindfully attend to each step along the way—boiling the water, listening to the sound the water makes as you pour it into the cup, feeling the warmth, watching the tea steep, inhaling the aroma, savoring the taste. Each step stimulates a different sense.

And you can have some fun with the tea options. In a recent meditation group at The Awakening Center, we sat and mindfully watched Peach Momotaro blossoming tea as it unfurled in hot water. Well, sort of.

As the group leader, I wanted the experience of watching the tea bloom to be awe-inspiring. I imagined the participants being moved by the display. Needless to say, my anxiety was triggered when the tea didn’t cooperate. The tea bundles floated for a while … kind of looking like dead fish. It took all my will power to not start poking at them or jostling the vessel.

Eventually, they began to painfully slowly open up. And they were pretty. Just not spectacular.

 And that was OK. The joy of the meditation was finding our patience and acceptance. The purpose was to provide a focal point and sensory experience for the participants—not to impress them with my miraculous tea display. The light fragrance was wonderful and the peach flavor was subtle but enjoyable.

Once I let go of my own expectations, I was able to admire the blossoms as they were. Experiences like a tea meditation help us let go and accept the beauty in how things are—not as we wish they would be.

Enjoy your practice.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sowing the Seeds of Recovery

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

Gardening can be both extremely satisfying and utterly maddening. Seeds are sown with boundless hope. Sprouts are celebrated, nurtured, and tended. Exhaustive reading and research reveals how much sun is needed, when to water, when to transplant, how to protect against pests, when/if to fertilize. We can do everything according to the best gardening guides…and come up with nothing.

So why do we bother? Because we also might be rewarded with a bounty—herbs, berries, vegetables. So much, that we end up calling friends and family members: “Do you guys want some tomatoes?” “How about some cucumbers?” We then turn our researching skills to canning and preserves.

Even when our harvest is disappointing, though, gardening provides us with a chance to engage with our surroundings in a different way. The smell of the soil. The feeling of the soft earth. The tender way we handle seedlings.

Gardening can also help us learn to let go of expectations and control. We have to find satisfaction in each step along the way. We learn to tolerate disappointment and frustration. We also learn to receive and trust joy and satisfaction when efforts are rewarded.

The Awakening Center is starting a gardening group to help participants address their eating disorder recovery in an experiential and symbolic way. Each group session will center on a recovery theme that relates to the stage of our plants. For example, in our first meeting we will prepare our pots for planting. As we paint our pots, we will discuss what it means in our recovery to create a safe space for ourselves.

Other themes will include setting physical and emotional boundaries, nurturing our plants and ourselves, flexibility and patience as our plants and our recovery grows, and connection to the earth and to others. Through these topics, we hope to tap into meaningful processing and skill building.

If you’d like to join this group or if you want more information, you can contact Sheana Tobey at

Monday, April 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: The Toxic “What if?”

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

When my son was little, he was full of questions. Most of them started with “What if?” “What if dinosaurs could be brought back to life?” “What if trucks could fly?” “What if dogs could talk?” He asked these types of questions so often that the “What if?” became “Whuf?” “Whuf it snows tomorrow?” “Whuf worms had ears?”

I loved his unending sense of curiosity and wonder. As adults, we’re often inclined to ask our own “What if?” questions. But much of the time, we’re less curious and more worried or even accusatory. “What if I eat that cookie and can’t stop?” “What if I get fat?” “What if I am unlovable?”

Whereas my son’s “Whuf?” questions seemed contained and information driven (do worms actually have ears?), our “What ifs?” are more sinister. We don’t seem to be seeking an answer. Instead we’re going down the rabbit hole that gets darker and darker.

When a client starts down this path, I like to stop and actually try to answer the question. What if you can’t stop eating cookies? What does that really mean? Do you mean you might eat 2 instead of your carefully allotted 1? Who says you’re allowed only 1? What if you’re hungry for 2?

Or do you mean you’ll eat the whole package if you allow yourself just 1? If so, there is something to be explored there. No crime. Nothing to feel guilty about. But a signifier that pain is present. Does eating the package of cookies provide distraction from emotional suffering?

By answering the “What if?” question, we can get to the root of the fear that triggers the next “What if?”

The toxic “What ifs?” are usually asked by one of our Parts—the Bully who is preparing you for the worst-case scenario. Or the Exile who is simply terrified. But through the compassion and curiosity of Self, you will most likely find that the answer to the “What if?” is not nearly as scary as you thought.

Enjoy your practice.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Communing with Your Inner Wise One

"White Buddha Praying" by Laura Lian
 By Erin Stitzel Selover, MA, LPC

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain”.—Eckhart Tolle
Imagine for a moment it is the night before a deadline, you didn’t set aside enough time to work on your project, and now you won’t be prepared in the way you would prefer. What thoughts do you experience as you consider this situation? Perhaps your inner Critic would very vocal: “You’re so lazy. How could you have done this? Well it’s pretty typical, actually. You are such a faker. You should just give up”.

If your Critic is loud enough, your inner Child might become engaged, spurring her into an anxious spin. She may think, “Oh no! What is going to happen? I am going to be the laughing stock! Everyone will see that I AM just a faker. I am so scared!”

Perhaps this provokes another part of you who wants to save the day but is out of balance so can’t suggest the most sound ideas. Perhaps this panicked Rescuer says, “Just call in sick! Don’t go! Make something up! Just save yourself!!” You can imagine how crippling these thoughts could be and how awful you could feel if you listen to them. When we get so caught up in the false messages we receive from different parts of ourselves, it is very difficult to center and move forward in the best way. 

Now imagine this same scenario, the eve of a presentation that you just did not sufficiently prepare for. However, this time you hear from your inner Wise One. What might this sound like? Perhaps your Wise One would say, “Well you definitely didn’t prepare as much as you could have, however, slow down and take a moment to review what you already know about this subject. Is there anything you can do to pull together some key ideas?” Perhaps your Critic is then more in balance and acts more as a Manager. It may say, “Is there a way to frame your presentation so that your audience is more involved and contributes their ideas? It may not be your best work, but moving forward you can manage your time differently.” Your Rescuer may then say, “Why don’t you shift this into a workshop format and have your participants map out solutions?” This could leave your Child part feeling safer, thinking “That could be great, and people could feel a part of the creative process!”

This would all feel a lot different from the situation described above. You would be just as prepared (or under-prepared), yet you would go into your presentation feeling far more grounded and stable, and you could even come out of it feeling inspired and successful. The difference? Your thoughts! Your inner dialogue can be just that powerful.   

This may sound great, and most likely anyone would prefer the second scenario. So, how does one go about it? How can you soften the messages you receive and center yourself in the space of your Wise One? One of the best ways is to simply commune daily with your Wise One.

All of your parts--the Critic/Manager, the Rescuer/Panic part, the Child--are like your own inner tribe. A tribe runs more smoothly and peacefully when a leader is present. The tribe needs to know and be familiar with the leader to trust their guidance. If the leader rarely shows up and is inconsistent, the tribe is less inclined to respond with respect and won’t particularly experience safety. When the leader is ever-present and provides guidance, instruction and comfort, then the tribe is going to respond in kind. Communing daily with your Wise One—your tribe leader—can help your parts begin to work together in harmony, instead of inadvertently wreaking havoc on your thoughts, system, and responses. 

A great way to start communing with your Wise One is to choose a time of day when you are already feeling calm. If you are a visual person, it can be helpful to assign an image to your Wise One. You may respond to sound or color and can think of your Wise One in this way. It could also be helpful to envision someone from your life as a stand-in for your Wise One. Do you have a relative, friend, or teacher who is very calming and grounding to you? Let them represent your Wise One! Really, whatever works for you and can help you connect to this concept of inner calm is perfect.

So take a moment, close your eyes, and picture this Wise One. Imagine that your Wise One exudes love and acceptance, believes in you, and wants you to be happy and to succeed. You could just sit and bask in this energy, or you could imagine yourself having a conversation with your Wise One. If you start to notice any of your parts getting activated in this exercise, just try to calmly acknowledge them and let them know you will get back to them after you spend a few minutes with this benevolent energy. This can be tricky in the beginning. Remember, your inner tribe may not yet trust this leader. Over time, the presence of your Wise One will feel more natural, and eventually all of your parts will be more willing to work with the system, for good.

Erin Stitzel Selover is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with individuals and groups. She believes in helping clients access their own inner strength and wisdom and strives to accompany them on that journey of exploration and discovery. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Meditation Monday: Finding Your Thundersnow Moment

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

A former coworker and I used to joke that if The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore shows up in your town, it’s time to take cover. He always seems to be where the weather is the worst—and he loves it. I’m a big fan of Jim Cantore. He obviously loves, loves, loves his job, which is best depicted in his “thundersnow” moment.

He could not contain the joy that he felt during the thundersnow. And how delightful is that. Jim Cantore was fully present and in the moment. No self-consciousness…no apologies for his response…just Jim Cantore being, well, vulnerable.

We all have our sources of thundersnow—those experiences that completely push aside self-doubt and self-judgment. Our thundersnow moments might be when we connect fully to contentment and inner peace; or they might be when we fully feel the grief over a lost loved one. But we cannot experience these moments if we don’t allow ourselves to open to them.

Jim Cantore opened up more than his mind to the thundersnow. He felt it from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. We can be very good and isolating our experiences to our thoughts. We cut off our bodies and our connection to everything becomes blunted.

When you notice an emotion or event, what happens in your body? What does the experience feel like from head to toe? How do you mute yourself and what are the consequences of that?

But with mindfulness practice we can begin to connect to our own thundersnow moment. You deserve moments of unfiltered joy and celebration too.

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: Your Authentic Self

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

In helping clients find their core, inner wisdom, we often start by taking an inventory of their values. What matters to them? How do they define “right” and “wrong”? In listening for the answers, some discover their values do not align with their parents’ or upbringing. This can be disconcerting but at the same time freeing.

Meditation allows you to reflect upon whether what you’ve been told you think, feel, or believe actually meshes with your true self. By quieting the chatter in your mind, you can begin to connect more fully with what you know to be true about yourself.

Many who struggle with eating disorders grew up in or currently live in invalidating environments. If you feel that there is something deeply wrong with you, then to fit in—or remain part of the pack—you might try to change yourself. Or, to cope with the shame, you might seek numbing or distracting behaviors.

The road out of that suffering, is to learn to validate yourself. And to validate yourself, you have to know yourself. And to know yourself, you have to listen to what your inner wisdom tells you about how you think or feel or what you believe.

A helpful visualization is to imagine you’re standing in an open room and that all of the masks you wear or defenses you carry are stripped away one by one. Who is left standing? What does that person value? What is that person like?

You might begin by being an outside observer of yourself. With compassion and curiosity, see if you can notice what motivates you? What inspires you? Then, invite yourself to step into this person—what does it feel like to be present without the masks? What does it feel like to embody your values?

You might not feel safe taking this embodiment out into the real world, but using meditation to get to know your true inner self will move your journey forward.

Enjoy your practice.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Finding Your Tribe

Originally published on 12/10/2014

By Erin Diedling, M.Ed, LCPC

Recently, I was invited to a retreat. I didn't know anyone attending, including the hosts who invited me. I knew very few of the details, and after I booked my travel arrangements the dates were changed. It was getting weird. At that point, I thought about not going. But my gut said “GO.” I checked in again and considered the outcome of going versus not going. It still said “GO GO GO!” Now I know why. Something about this group of strangers gathering to focus upon spirit and to heal together pulled at me.
            This group of healers were from around the globe, and each brought a special unique healing gift. All the gifts were different. We exchanged modalities and taught each other. At the meditation center, we sat under the majestic redwood trees and exchanged stories until late at night. It’s still unfolding. The relationships, transformation, and the experiences that were shared. The sense of belonging and connectedness. It was profound. My spirit got giddy to be around this group. We stay in touch and feed each other with strength and connection. It’s like push pins on a globe that light up when we video chat.
            Then I came home and was so excited to share the transformation with my colleagues and clients. I realized I had a work tribe. I get to work with a crew of unbelievably talented practitioners. We get excited to see each other in the halls and trade stories and support each other’s work. It’s kinda magical.
            I’m blessed. I have a tribe. I have many tribes.
            So often in our work at The Awakening Center with complex trauma, eating disorders, high anxiety, and so forth, clients are isolated. The biggest difficulties many of my clients face are loneliness and isolation. People can experience that in a crowd or at home alone. I know that seeking company is risky for some. It can be uncomfortable. And I’ll admit, I can be an extrovert when I want to (or when I need to be). Introverts can have a tough time taking advice from an extrovert because their fear is overlooked. I want to acknowledge your fear. It’s risky. You can get hurt. There’s a deep longing to connect without the means or the understanding of how.
            So I will ask, where are the invites? Is there an interest you have that pulls at you. Is there and alumni organization, cultural club, business group, and on and on?
            I urge clients and friends to seek out their tribes when they’re feeling lost. Author and spiritual leader Rob Bell said, “If you’re feeling your world is too small or if you’re feeling stuck, then make your world bigger.”
            Is there a tribe that is inviting you? Is there a tribe that calls you? If you have to convince or campaign for it, it’s probably not your tribe.
            Or, consider the tribes that are inviting you. Are they appealing to you? Do they freak you out and make you want to run? Probably not your tribe. Sometimes it’s like the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Ugly Duckling. He can’t see its own beauty. He thinks he’s a duck who looks different from other ducks. It takes a couple of mated beautiful swans to initiate the naïve swan into the tribe. “Look at you at your grace and talent, where have you been, we’ve missed you, come swim with us.”
            Sometimes our biological families are our tribes. Other times we create a family out of friends, coworkers, places of common interest, the art studio, volunteer organizations, places of worship, or institutions of learning.
            Please respond, and let people reading this blog know where you find and have found your tribe. Where do you get a sense of belonging? And how do you invite others to join in? Thanks for reading this. I’m grateful for your participation.

Erin is Director of Trauma Healing and Sr. Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She completed an advanced 3 year training with Somatic Experience Trauma Institute (SETI). She does body-centered psychotherapy, teaches meditation, and leads the Somatic Experience–informed trauma group at The Awakening Center. She periodically teaches her signature Design Your Life Workshop. She specializes in treating complex trauma, eating/anxiety disorders as well performers and artists. Erin dances, paints, and writes in Chicago.