Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 1 Rigid Words.

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC

Language plays a powerful role in our lives. It allows us to communicate with others and with our Selves. The language we use can either open us up to considering multiple options and outcomes, or it can close us off from them. In the next three posts, I will pose three basic categories of words and phrases that tend to keep us from being open and accepting: rigid words, pressure words, and negating words.
          Today, I will talk about rigid words, including always, never, exactly, only, every, and none. These words tend to close us off from other possibilities or outcomes. For example, last week I was changing my sheets, and, as usual, I struggled with the fitted sheet. I often have a tough time knowing which is the long side and which is the short side. I took my best guess and got angry with myself when I got it wrong, thinking “Uggghhhh… I never do this right.” I ripped the sheet off, turned it around, and put it on the bed; I was in a bad mood for about 10 minutes before I realized what happened. I had insulted myself, and a part of me felt insecure and belittled.
          A mental fight ensued, leaving me in a bad mood. Can you imagine how much more peaceful that 10 minutes would have been had I said to myself “I often have difficulties putting a fitted sheet on the bed”? Go back and read that last sentence in an angry tone. It doesn’t have the same effect, does it? By nature of the word choice, it is a more accepting statement.
           Now, let’s double back to the time I was in a bad mood. Imagine that my partner was in the room with me, asking for my help with the laundry. Perhaps my patience was limited because I was preoccupied with the mental battle within. I may have snapped at him and told him to figure it out himself. This is one of the ways the language we use with ourselves can seep out and affect our relationships with others. 
            You can change the quality of these rigid statements by following these steps. 
  1. Recognize that you’ve used one of the rigid words with yourself or someone else.
  2. Take a step back from it--perhaps with a deep breath--and consider with curiosity the validity of it. Is it true that “I NEVER put a fitted sheet on correctly?” Of course not! I’ve gotten it right at least one time in my life.
  3. Change the phrase into a more accurate statement: “I often have difficulties putting a fitted sheet on the bed.”

         A key to doing this work is to leave judgement out of it. This week, I encourage all of you to try Step 1. Take time to notice when you use a rigid word. Notice what it does to your mood and how it effects your day, without judgement.  When you feel ready, continue on with steps 2 and 3.  It is easiest to begin stepping back from and changing words and phrases in less emotionally charged statements or subject matter. So begin there and work your way up. Remember that eliminating these words from your vocabulary takes time, so go easy on yourself as you begin the process.       
            Over the next two posts, we will look at the other two categories, pressure words and negating words, to create more space for peace and acceptance within.

Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or

Monday, August 22, 2016

Meditation Monday: Reflections on the Summer Games

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 mindfulness group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

The start of the Summer Olympics in Rio coincided with some time I had off from work. So, needless to say, I tuned in ready to cheer on the US’s athletes.

I enjoy watching these elite athletes and am always struck and impressed by their stories of hard work and persistence. Each was born with a natural talent or genetic advantage—I’m looking at you, Michael Phelps, and your long arms and insane lung capacity—but no one gets to this level of competition without hard work.

Of course, the downside to watching these games is that those gremlin voices inside our heads can get triggered: “She’s only 19 years old and look how much she’s accomplished! You’re clearly wasting your life.” Or “That guy overcame poverty and oppression and look what he can do! What are you complaining about? You’re clearly weak.”

Those gremlins are most often fired up by the stories we tell ourselves. To these parts, admiring the achievements of Simone Biles inevitably leads to self-doubt and shame at our meager accomplishments.

But, our inner wisdom knows there is room for all stories. The record-breaking performance of Katie Ledecky does not cast a shadow over achievements in work, school, or recovery. We can find inspiration in the stories of resilience without belittling ourselves.

So when you’re judgmental gremlin part gets loud in your head, try the following:
  1. Gently remind yourself that the judgmental gremlin is just a Part—not your whole Self.
  2. Reflect upon what the gremlin Part wants you to know. All our Parts have good intentions. Often, the judgmental Parts say things like “I want her to accomplish her goals so she’ll be happy!” What does the gremlin Part worry will happen if it doesn’t berate you?
  3. Lean into the gremlin Part with compassion. I know—that seems counterintuitive. Why would you want to lean into something that berates you? Because while the execution might be misguided, the gremlin Part is trying to help.
  4. Consider what the gremlin Part needs from your inner wisdom to help it feel less worried. Then, what do you need from the gremlin.

Use your meditation practice to connect to your inner wisdom so you can gain objectivity and perspective on the judgmental gremlin. Breathe, and let yourself move into a place of compassion and curiosity. Who knows. You might just make friends with your gremlin.

Enjoy your practice.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wabi Sabi and the Art of De-Cluttering the Mind

Photo courtesy of Nancy Hall
By Florian Burfeind

Wabi Sabi is the Japanese worldview that celebrates functionality and spaciousness and that finds beauty in simplicity and imperfection. When we feel overwhelmed by a barrage of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, how can we create space and embrace our imperfections?

Sometimes, tidying up our home can help us feel better: creating space, putting things in their right places, or perhaps discarding items we no longer need. We have accomplished something, and by managing the outer chaos we have created space within.

When we feel triggered, it is important to keep our project manageable: “I’m going to sort through just this one stack of paper,” or “I’m going to go through this closet for only 15 minutes.” Then step back, and appreciate your accomplishment.

However, sometimes we cannot rearrange the objects around us. What to do then? Start by taking a moment to localize the sensations in the body. You may notice racing thoughts or a tightness in the chest. What else? Oh, a numbness in the feet. Now you have separated out some sensations. But what’s next:
  • Breathe in deeply through the nose, and let the air flow into your lungs, filling up the chest all the way to the gut, even into the toes. 
  • Imagine compassion streaming into your body with the air, dissolving any unpleasant sensations or aches in the body.
  • As you breathe out, release any tension in your body along with feelings of anxiety, fear, or sadness and give it over to the wide space in front of you.

There is enough space in the world to hold the tension for you. Instead, use the space within your body for feelings that are helpful, like calmness.

But what about our thoughts? We can experience having many thoughts at once. And sometimes they nag us even when part of us recognizes that we don’t need to listen to them. And then there can be thoughts that overwhelm us or frighten us even when perhaps it’s not altogether clear what the thought really is. Here too we can try to create space.
  • Localize a thought and imagine putting this thought in a chair or in a corner of the room.
  • Look at the thought, acknowledge it.
  • Do the same for one or two other thoughts you may have.
  •  Now put these thoughts on different chairs or in different spots in the room.
  •  Are any of these thoughts helpful to you? If not, why don’t you ask them to wait in their chairs or even in another room if that feels safer to you, until you are ready to work with them.

If a thought is no longer useful to you, see if the time feels right to let go of it altogether, perhaps burying it in the earth. Now return to your mind--does it feel a little calmer, a little bit more spacious perhaps? If you have an affirmation, go ahead and say it.

There may be more inner work to do, but right now, at this moment, you are who you are even with all your imperfections. And you are good enough. 

Florian Burfeind is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center. They (Florian uses genderneutral pronouns) are currently in their third year in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at DePaul University. Florian grew up in Europe and likes seeing things with new eyes. They're passionate about helping others find and live out their true Selves. In their free time, Florian enjoys being outside with their dog. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Meditation Monday: Thinking About Thinking

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

On a recent New Yorker podcast, Patricia Marx describes becoming reacquainted with archery. According to her instructor, the key is to clear one’s mind from thoughts. Apparently, an expert archer focuses on the intended target, allows it to penetrate completely into the mind, removes all semblance of thinking, and lets the arrow fly. Marx wasn’t particularly successful, unless you count the near bulls-eye she got—on her neighbor’s target. She described not being able to quiet her thoughts and commented, “This is why I’m terrible at yoga.”

Many mistakenly believe that practicing meditation means removing thoughts from the mind. But psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach has a different perspective on thinking. According to Brach, we cannot stop or control thoughts, but we can develop a different relationship with them. She states, “Thinking is a very good servant but a very bad master.” We need our thoughts—that’s how we do stuff.

But to be mindful, we need more than thinking. The thinking mind can turn us toward mindfulness. But it can keep us caught in dead-end loops. Judgment, ruminations, obsessions. To fully experience life, we need to use thinking as a tool, not as the only way of being in the world.

Brach offers the following exercise to bring mindfulness to thoughts. 
  • Close your eyes and take a few breaths to center yourself and come into the present moment.
  • For the next few minutes (set a timer if you like), count your thoughts. Just as each one enters into your mind. There’s a thought. There’s another one. Just notice and number them.
How was that? How many thoughts did you count? Can you identify which type of thoughts you had? Worrying? Planning? Judgmental? Thoughts about thoughts? Were they visual or audio? Moving images or stills?

Brach reminds us that thoughts are not reality. Just as feelings are not facts, thoughts are thoughts—they are not truth. We do not have to identify with the thoughts. But we also cannot—nor should we—try to remove them from our mindfulness practice. Notice, identify, and label. Acknowledge the thought instead of resisting it so you can move through it continue to deepen your awareness.

Enjoy your practice.