Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celebrating Acceptance: Dealing with Uncertainty

Photo courtesy of Nancy Hall

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly she states: 
I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.
This notion of uncertainty often trips us up. While intellectually we know we can’t foresee every risk or predict every outcome, we continue to armor ourselves against hurt. We keep our defenses fortified so that we can be protected from the sneak attack of hurt or rejection. We avoid vulnerability until we feel certain that we won’t get hurt—until we’ve collected enough evidence and data.

Sounds logical, right? After all, we’re not going to offer up our hearts without evaluating the risks. And that’s important—to a point.

The problem with looking for certainty is that it doesn’t exist. We can never know for sure that we won’t be hurt or rejected. We can play the odds, consider other people’s past behavior, and pay attention to our gut. But certainty in relationships doesn’t exist. But that’s not all bad news.

Uncertainty allows us to learn and grow; it challenges us and is the avenue for deeper relationships. Uncertainty spurs us to learn to trust ourselves. To believe that even if the worst were to happen, that we’ll be OK. When (not if) hurt and rejection occur, we can find our inner resilience and grow from the experience.

The Awaken to Action theme at The Awakening Center for December is Acceptance. So I challenge you to accept uncertainty—to notice where you’re clinging to or desperately seeking certainty. Notice how accepting uncertainty can create opportunities for closeness and vulnerability. Remember, acceptance doesn’t mean approval—it’s merely acknowledging the reality of the situation.

So when you’re grasping for certainty that is elusive—try saying to yourself, “this is how it is right now.” That phrase alone creates acceptance in your heart.

Like us on Facebook to keep track of the Celebrate Acceptance challenges for December.

Nancy is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she facilitates the adult DBT group and the Eating Disorder Therapy Group. Like her on Facebook and subscribe to her personal blog

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tummy Turmoil

"Frozen Foods with String Beans," Irving Penn {c} Irving Penn Foundation
By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
A significant part of the recovery process from an eating disorder involves adapting to a “normalized” eating pattern. However, many individuals experience one or more of the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms when they start the refeeding process: abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and feeling uncomfortable full. Sometimes, healthy behavior changes make one feel worse in comparison to when he or she was practicing disordered behaviors like food restriction, binging, and purging.
            There are several reasons why these unwanted symptoms occur, and all relate to the physiological changes that occur with continuous disordered behaviors. The entire GI is composed of muscles that are stimulated to contract when one starts eating. Similar to the muscles in your arms and legs, if there is nothing to promote movement, these muscles become sluggish and weak. If one restricts his or her intake, either by eating very small amounts of food or going for long periods of time without eating, the muscles remain “under-exercised.” Laxative use for purging may cause diarrhea, constipation, and/or diarrhea. These symptoms tend to persist, even after discontinuing the use of a laxative.
            Unfortunately, these unwanted symptoms tend to encourage individuals to resume disordered behaviors because the mind-set of “why bother, when I am try so hard” sets in. However, these symptoms will resolve after a few weeks of consistent refeeding. In the meantime, the tips below can help reduce GI discomfort from refeeding.
·                 The refeeding process needs to occur gradually. One should never drastically increase his or her daily calorie intake because it could lead to serious medical complications (heart failure). If you are not in a medically supervised program, seek the help of a Registered and Licensed Dietitian (RDN) who can help with meal planning.
·                 An RDN will assist in creating a meal plan that includes foods from all groups. Avoid the inclination to fill up on high-fiber, low-calorie foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat products); excessive amounts of fiber may contribute to diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, or constipation (if fluid intake is not adequate). Plus, you may feel too full to consume other nutrient-dense foods from the other groups.
·                 Eat smaller, more frequent meals to reduce the load on your GI system. This will gradually get an under-used GI system back into shape! The general recommendation is to eat something every three to four hours.
·                 Stay hydrated but don’t fill up on water. Fluid intake is important, but try not to drink too much with meals to avoid early satiety.
·                 Find options to ease your symptoms. There are over-the-counter medications to help with some of these GI symptoms, but you should consult with you medical doctor (MD) before purchasing any.
            No one needs to tell you that recovery is difficult! Keep in mind that your decision to seek treatment deserves much praise and continual encouragement. The discomfort felt at the beginning pays off in the future.
            On a final note, if after several weeks of following a recommended meal plan, persistent signs of abdominal pain, unintentional vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and/or early nausea warrants a follow-up visit with your MD. He or she can assess your condition, and determine if a referral to a GI doctor is necessary.
Michel Harris a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and serves on the staff of The Awakening Center. She believes in the mindful approach to develop a peaceful relationship with food and exercise in the recovery process of eating disorders. To find out more or to set up an appointment with Michel, call 773.929.6262.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Couples on the Brink

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC

Nearly everyone enters marriage or a committed relationship with the dream of a lifelong union. But many couples reach a crisis point where breakup is on the table. Usually there is one “leaning-out” partner, who thinks that splitting up might be the best way to move forward, and one “leaning-in” partner, who wants to preserve the relationship and make things better.
            If this is your situation—one of you leaning out and the other leaning in—it’s a tough place to be. Traditional couple’s counseling may not be helpful if one of you is not sure you want to work on the relationship at this point.            
            Fortunately, there is a new way of helping you. Discernment Counseling can help you find clarity and confidence about next steps. It can help you find a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your relationship and each person’s contributions to the problems. It’s not couple’s counseling aiming to solve your problems or bring you closer. Instead, Discernment Counseling helps you figure out whether your problems can be solved and whether you both want to try.
           Discernment Counseling focuses on three paths:
  1. Staying married or partnered as you have been
  2. Separating or divorcing
  3. Making a six-month, all-out effort in couple’s therapy to see if you can make your relationship healthy and good for both of you.

           As you consider these paths in Discernment Counseling, you will learn more about your relationship and about yourselves as individuals—information that will help you make a good decision about the future.
         Discernment Counseling sessions involve mostly conversations between each individual partner and the counselor, along with some therapy time as a couple. The counselor respects each person’s perspective—reasons to end the relationship and reasons to preserve it.
         Discernment Counseling is short-term work, as brief as one session and as long as five. You are committing yourselves to only one session at the outset; then each time, you decide whether to return, for up to a maximum of five sessions. The first session is two-hours long and any subsequent sessions are one-and-one-half hours.
         Confronting problems in a partnership can be painful. But Discernment Counseling can help you clarify your intentions in an accepting and nonjudgmental setting. When each person feels validated, the pressure can lift, and decisions about the future of the relationship can be made with compassion and clarity.
Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. To find out more about Discernment Counseling or to get in touch with Susan, call 773-929-6262 x 20 or email morlocksusan@yahoo.com. www.theawakeningcenter.net.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Awaken to Action: Celebrating Acceptance

By Amy Y. Grabowski, MA, LCPC
No matter whom you voted for last month, I’m sure you’ve been aware of an atmosphere of anger, discord, and fear that has permeated our community, our city, and especially our country. Many, myself included, felt anxious, confused, and helpless. Reading about how people were reacting with acts of violence and bigotry was very distressing. The day after the election, my friend’s 5th grade son came home from school very upset. Apparently, one of his classmates walked down the hallway, pointed at other students, and declared, “You’re deported, you’re deported, you’re deported. You’re white, so you can stay.” My heart ached when I heard that! Our children should not be learning these attitudes and behaviors! That is not the way I want the future of our society to be! 
            I strongly believe that, as Mahatma Gandhi said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want a society that is accepting and loving, we must be accepting and loving. The staff at The Awakening Center and I believe that we all need to DO something to help heal ourselves and those around us. It felt good to meet together as a group and come up with ideas that will help turn the hatred around. 
            Going forward, each month, The Awakening Center will celebrate a quality that we want to see in the world. Throughout December, TAC will recognize and honor ACCEPTANCE! We will post “challenges,” which are little actions you can take to spread acceptance. Some are easy: “Smile at someone you don’t know.” Others take more effort: “Learn about another culture.” Our hope is that by doing simple challenges you will feel empowered and hopeful about the future of our society.
            We hope that through these simple acts of celebration and acceptance, we can strengthen our sense of community and reaffirm our support for one another. We can embrace our differences of race, ethnicity, heritage, language, and culture. We can celebrate our diverse religions, beliefs, and customs. We can honor our sexual orientations and gender identities. We can embrace our special needs. We can celebrate you and value you as unique human beings. 
            Let’s protect and take care of each other. Let’s speak up and support one another. Let’s fill our hearts with love for each other. 
P.S. We are trying to get 1,000 “Likes” on our Facebook page, so check us out at https://www.facebook.com/TheAwakeningCenter/. And please consider sharing this on your own Facebook page and encourage others to “Like” us as well.


Amy is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center and the author of An Internal Family Systems Guide to Recovery from Eating Disorders: Healing Part by Part, which will be published in 2017.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

EMDR--Breakthrough Therapy

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a relatively new therapy, and research shows that it can be effective in reducing symptoms of trauma. Like our body, the mind can heal itself. Usually, this natural process occurs when we sleep during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle. EMDR mimics this process by having the individual recount the past trauma experienced, while moving his or her eyes back and forth in a clockwork-like fashion, known as bilateral stimulation. With repeated sets of eye movements, the traumatic memory loses its intensity as it becomes neutral and stored in the past where it belongs.
What happens when we get traumatized?
Trauma--which is an event that falls outside our usual human experience--causes distress. Trauma can be grouped into two types: Big T and little t. A big T event could be auto crash, war, losing a loved one, or sexual abuse, just to name a few. Little t events are at a more personal level such as loss of a personal relationship, loss of job, being teased as a young child, or a phobia or fear of something. When these things happen, our natural coping mechanisms become overwhelmed, and our brain freezes (flight or fight response). These memories are left unprocessed, and then when the trauma is triggered, the body reacts as if the event is occurring in the present. EMDR helps teach the brain that the trauma is a memory. All trauma has an effect on how we view the world and shapes how we cope with life after an upsetting event.
What is EMDR session like?
The amount of time to complete treatment will depend on your history. The three-pronged approach involves targeting past memories, present disturbances, and future actions. By adding a bilateral stimulation in a safe environment the disturbing event is recalled in detail. All the emotions and body sensations are explored. The idea is to shift and weaken the negative emotions and reactions to help make them less disturbing and symptomatic by turning them into resolved feelings and stored adaptive memories.
What are some symptoms that EMDR can help?
Eating disorders
Test anxiety

Can EMDR be helpful for you? Talk to your therapist or contact me for more details. We all deserve to have happiness and a full life.

Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. To find out more about EMDR or to get in touch with Susan, call 773-929-6262 x 20 or email morlocksusan@yahoo.com. www.theawakeningcenter.net

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Nature Can Remind Us to Be Present

Bryce Canyon, Utah. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Buikema

By Kimberly Buikema
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir, early advocate for US wilderness preservation
Throughout 2016, the National Park Service has celebrated its centennial anniversary, with its actual 100th birthday having taken place on August 25. Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit any of the national parks can attest to their overwhelming beauty and majesty. Visiting them, whether for a few photographs, a brief stroll, a hike, or camping can invoke a sense of awe, wonderment, and peace.

So what is it about that experience that makes it so special? There are most likely scientific studies out there that explain the benefit of getting back in touch with nature and the earth. Instead, I’d like to mention why visiting the national parks have been so special for me.

  • The parks remind us that we, as humans are all connected, both to each other and the grander universe. 
  • Fresh air and sunshine can work wonders for mental and physical well-being.
  • The views are simply awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • The quiet and solitude, while being surrounded by beauty, reminds me that I am OK just as I am. 
  • The only distraction is nature and abundant life as seen in vegetation and wildlife. I never even look at my phone (unless it’s to take a picture).

I’m seeing new things and views I don’t usually see in the city. The colors are so different and vibrant.

Here in Chicago, we aren’t close to The West where national parks, mountains, deserts, and canyons are abundant. So what can we do here, among the high-rises, sprawling suburbs, and expressways do to feel closer to nature?

  • Don’t be afraid to get outdoors! Chicago can be hot and muggy (or REALLY cold) but can you spare a few mindful moments to feel the air on your skin, the earth beneath your feet? Even if the weather is uncomfortable, can you incorporate that into your experience? Can you feel the sweat collecting, the heavy humidity on your skin? 
  • Take a moment to listen. What sounds do you hear? Is there wind rustling leaves in the trees? Dogs barking? Birds chirping? Cicadas?
  • Open up the windows when the weather allows it. Let natural, fresh air fill your home. Notice how your home smells, feels, or sounds different with the windows open. 
  • Take a moment to admire the sky. We have our fair share of lovely sunsets, not to mention clouds, thunderstorms, and stars. 
  • Take your meditation or yoga practice outside. 

       Although these ideas seem simple, simplicity is often involved in practicing mindfulness. It allows us a moment to pause, breathe, notice, and connect. Connecting back to nature and the earth can help us feel connected to others and our inner selves.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.” – John Muir
Kim Buikema is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center. She is currently in her second and final year in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. She believes that goodness and truth lives within everyone and hopes to help people find their own inner-truth and goodness through counseling. She has a regular yoga and meditation practice, and enjoys traveling and music. She has recently returned to Chicago after living in the UK for ten years.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 3 Negating Words.

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC
            In Part 1 of this three-part series on language we explored rigid words. Part 2 delved into pressure words
            In this final installment, we’ll look into words and phrases that keep us from being open and accepting of ourselves and others. These are negating words or phrases, such as but. These types of words close off opposing forces that co-exist in our everyday lives. For example, yesterday I walked by a beautiful pair of shoes, and I thought, “I want those shoes, but I need to save money for rent.” (Notice the pressure word need that slipped in there? Could this mental fight have been avoided had I changed it to want? Just a thought) I walked away and didn’t even try them on. I continued thinking about those shoes and fighting with myself about them all day:  
“Those shoes were so pretty.”
“But you can’t afford them, Sheana.”
“But they were so perfectly edgy, and they would look great with that one dress…”
“Sheana, you always spend too much money on things you don’t need.  You’ve got to stop!” 
(Notice how the mental fight escalated and how I used the rigid word always with myself.) By throwing the word but into the middle of that initial phrase, I negated the part of me that wanted the shoes. By replacing but with a period or and, I could allow room for both parts of myself to have a say in whether or not I bought the shoes. So, had I stated “I want those shoes. And I need money for rent,” I would have opened the conversation up to choice. I still might choose to not buy them; however, I gave myself the space to fully experience wanting them. This allows me to feel more confident in, and to better understand, my choice. 
            So, consider following these steps to change this language pattern.
  1. Notice that you have used a negating word.
  2. Change it to a period or and.
  3. Allow space for both opposing items to exist at once. 

            Working to change these categories of words takes time and patience. These are words we use in our everyday language. So, go easy as you begin to catch yourself (nonjudgmentally) in the act of using them. Then, when you feel ready, move onto Steps 2 and 3.
           I hope these tools allow you to live your days more openly, accepting, and peacefully.

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 TobeySheana@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 2 Pressure Words

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC
As noted in Part 1 of this 3-part series, we’re exploring how language can affect our peace of mind. In this post, I’d like to delve into pressure words, or the words and phrases that keep us from being open and accepting of ourselves and others. Examples include have to, must, should, and good enough. I lovingly say that when we use these, we are shoulding all over ourselves. I can appreciate how these types of words are usually trying to motivate us. However, in my experience, we end up pushed into tight corners with few acceptable outcomes.
            For example, if I tell myself “I have to finish writing this blog post by tonight,” then I’ve created only one acceptable outcome. (Did you notice the rigid word only that popped up there too?) What happens if I don’t finish the blog post by tonight? Odds are the mental fighting begins, and I shame myself for not getting it done. But imagine, if I said to myself “I would like to finish this blog post by tonight.” There’s so much space now. If I don’t get it done, that’s OK because my language allows me to understand that it wasn’t the only possible outcome. I can get it done tomorrow!
            One way to create space within these phrases is to follow these steps:
  1. Notice you’ve used a pressure word or phrase.
  2. Consider why you might actually want to complete the task or engage in the activity.
  3. Change the pressure words into more giving words, such as I want, It would be nice if, I would like to.
Now, you might be thinking, what if I have a task that I don’t want to do, such as laundry. First of all, I am with you. I know very few people who enjoy doing laundry. However, how happy will you be when you have clean underwear tomorrow? So “I have to do laundry” becomes “I would like to do laundry today so I’ll have clean underwear tomorrow.” Now you have created motivation. And if you decide you really don’t want to do your laundry, then you can go commando, and all will be well.
            Now, let’s consider that you have a work task with a firm deadline. It must get done. The word must automatically adds pressure to the situation. If you are anything like me, odds are this type of pressure causes you to play one too many games of Solitaire to procrastinate. Consider instead all of the reasons you want to complete the assignment. Perhaps you will get accolades from your boss, or you might feel good once you’ve completed the task. The idea is to add joy back into your to-do list and extract the pressure from it.
            This week, I encourage each of you to try step 1 with pressure words. Once you’ve mastered this step, you can move on to the others. And, as always, leave any judgement out of the work!
            Look for the Part 3—Negating Words—coming soon!

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 TobeySheana@gmail.com.


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 TobeySheana@gmail.com.

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 nancyhalltac@gmail.com.

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 nancyhalltac@gmail.com

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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Managing the Emotional Thermostat

By Rachel Baker

Self-care and coping are terms that get thrown around quite a bit. They are often presented as interchangeable, but, lo and behold, these two types of activities serve us in very different ways. In the most basic terms, self-care serves as a nurturing, preventative measure, whereas coping skills assist us in the heat of a triggering moment.
Let’s use a metaphor to illustrate this point. Imagine that you are a house. Your house has a physical body--the walls, roof, windows, and doors. Your house also has an internal emotional life, in this case, the temperature inside. We each have a unique temperature (emotional) range at which we feel comfortable. So how do we keep our houses in that comfortable zone?

You guessed it, self-care and coping! Self-care is all of the daily, weekly, monthly maintenance work you do on your house to make sure it has the capacity to stay in that comfortable temperature (emotional) range. You make sure that your windows and doors close securely to keep out the elements. You insulate your house. You set your thermostat to a comfy 72 degrees.

Self-care is the stuff that feels good and is good for us. Activities like spending time with loved ones, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, seeing a therapist, going to the doctor, joyfully moving our bodies, spending time in nature, making art, gardening, seeing a play, reading a good book, or anything else that brings a smile to our face is self-care. These activities keep our physical body and internal emotional life capable of maintaining our healthy, comfortable range.

OK, back to our house metaphor. Now imagine that all of a sudden, your AC unit breaks down in the middle of a heatwave. Time for coping skills! You might close your curtains, turn off all of the lights, and get out your backup fans.

Coping skills are the methods we use to deal with stressful situations. When our emotional thermostat shoots above our comfortable range and we feel angry, we might hit a punching bag, throw ice into a bathtub, take a vigorous walk (or stomp) around the block, or rip up an old phone book. When our emotional thermostat drops below our comfortable range and we feel sad or depressed, we might take a warm bath, call a friend, curl up with a good book, or listen to soothing music. After a stressful situation, coping skills help us get back to a content emotional temperature.

All in all, we need both self-care and coping skills. Following a daily or weekly self-care routine can minimize the opportunity for stressful moments. Of course, life is unpredictable. Sometimes our AC units break and we pull out our coping strategies. Self-care and coping look different for everyone. Trust your inner wisdom and start experimenting today!

Rachel Baker is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center who works with individuals and groups. Using a holistic approach, she strives to help clients discover a place of peace within. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 21 or at rachel.baker3523@gmail.com.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Meditation Monday: Is Intention-Setting a Setup for Judgment?

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 nancyhalltac@gmail.com

If you’ve ever been to a yoga or meditation class, you probably have been asked to set an intention for your practice. The idea is to create a vision for yourself—to add some agency. Meditation in particular can feel like a passive activity and setting an intention can shift this.

However, what happens when the intention becomes a distraction? And what about when you don’t “measure up” to your intention? Judgement. Self-criticism.

For some, intention-setting in meditation can shift the focus from the present to the future. It can turn the practice into a results-oriented endeavor. Which is why I like to offer my group participants an alternative.

“Take a moment to welcome yourself into your practice.”

There is a sneaky intention there—to come into the present. Whenever we welcome ourselves into a moment or activity, we orient ourselves to the present. And we take ourselves out of the sidelines. We open the door to full participation and it becomes harder to be a passive participant in our own lives.

Welcoming yourself can take a variety of forms. It might be mentally noting what you’re doing--“I’m at work now.” “I’m am talking with my friend now.” You might also observe what’s happening in your body—“My stomach has a knot.” “My palms feel tingly.”

Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about our lives can create a barrier to coming into the present moment. If we’re ruminating about what the boss thinks, focusing on the tasks at hand become even more difficult. However, acknowledging what you’re doing in that moment takes you out of your head and into your life.

So take a moment to welcome yourself into your day.

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: When the World Falls Apart

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 nancyhalltac@gmail.com

In recent weeks, I’ve had several clients express embarrassment over talking about their own feelings and problems when the world around them seems to be on fire. Suddenly, they feel that their worries are small—even insignificant.

The violence and hatred cast long and heavy shadows over everything. But this is not new. Throughout history, humans have shown that they are capable of unspeakable acts. It is an unfortunate reality of our existence. Yet, we don’t exactly know why. Evil? Psychosis?

What we do know is that people don’t cause suffering unless they’re suffering themselves. A perfectly content, accepting, and peaceful person does not decide to murder police officers or tourists.

And acknowledging this suffering does not excuse the horrific behavior. It does, however, give us a context. Which leads me back to my clients. Each person who comes into therapy or attends a group has decided to take responsibility for his or her suffering. So while the fight with a partner or struggle at work might feel petty, processing those battles helps calm the discontent that poisons the world around us.

Many find reflecting on the world’s events can help them realize their own problems are manageable. But we can also be good at using these crises to dismiss ourselves. “People are suffering in Syria—who cares about my body image issues?”

Unfortunately, suffering is not a zero-sum game—there is plenty to go around. But there is also plenty of healing, kindness, and peace to go around too. While your pain might feel small—it isn’t. And each step toward healing yourself heals the world.

Enjoy your practice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Toxic Friendship": A Poem by HJ

It's hard to understand how an eating disorder takes hold--how seductive it can be. One of our clients has written the following poem that beautifully describes how this "toxic friend" works its way into the heart. She has graciously given us permission to share. Special thanks to HJ.

Toxic Friendship

Lower and lower,
Into the abyss
Without even knowing.
Power and control--
All corrupt.
That's how it starts.
It feeds on insecurity.
An insidious disease
That pretends
To be your friend.
Its gift is the needlepoint pillow:
"You can never be too rich
Or too thin."

People reach out
To keep you from falling--
But you push them away.
You don't need them,
You already have a friend.
And so it goes,
This game of numbers.

One day you get up
Only to fall down.
The game is no longer fun.
So you grasp the hands
Reaching out to you--
As you realize
It was never your friend

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TAC Book Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

(2010 ISBN 9781439177785 Publisher Atria Books)

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

The first time I saw Portia de Rossi was on the TV show “Ally McBeal.” Wildly popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never really got into it. None of the characters seemed real to me—everyone was kind of cartoonish. The addition of Portia de Rossi to the cast apparently sent shockwaves into the series. She played Nelle, a buttoned-up ice queen with her blonde hair squeezed up in a tight bun. But Nelle evolved and showed her sexier side, modeling underwear and freeing her tightly bound golden locks.

What viewers didn’t see was de Rossi’s off-screen suffering. Her anxiety about appearing on TV in just a bra and panties. Her panic about not fitting into the wardrobe provided. Unbearable Lightness reveals a life of struggles—from the loss of her father, to her battle with eating disorders, and shame over her sexual identity.

De Rossi’s memoir does not shield the readers from the details of her eating disorder behaviors. She graphically describes binges and purges. She talks candidly about her quest to eat as few calories as possible and her compensatory behaviors to offset what she did consume. This book is not for the squeamish or the easily triggered.

Eating disorder behavior is very isolating and shame-filled. Sufferers engage alone and then describe feeling “disgusting,” “ashamed,” “mortified,” and so forth. Because of de Rossi’s willingness to spell out it alarming detail the specifics of her behaviors, she confronts that shame and rejects isolation. It’s like she’s telling her readers, hey, I know what you do in the darkness and you’re not alone. I’ve done it too. It’s going to be OK.

As we so often tell our clients, eating disorders are not about food, exercise, and weight. And de Rossi’s story illustrates that as well. As a young adult, she knew she was a lesbian. But she could not come out and tried to bury her identity. Then, once she became famous in the U.S., she felt even more pressure to hide her true self. And this shame—this sense of feeling flawed and unnatural—provided fuel to the eating disorder fire.

Unbearable Lightness describes de Rossi’s eating disorder, but the real story is in how she connected with her true self—the person she was born to be. Through that exploration, she has been able to recover and find peace.

I recommend Unbearable Lightness if you are solid in your recovery. As noted earlier, the details could be triggering. If you’re just starting your journey, then perhaps you could read (or listen to the audiobook) with your therapist or support group.

Crisply written, de Rossi’s candor is oddly shocking and reassuring. She has crafted a memoir that offers hope without easy answers, inspiration without quick fixes.

Keep reading!

If you're interested in purchasing this book, visit Women and Children First Bookstore's website for details on how to order. A phenomenal Chicago independent bookstore, since 1979, W&CF has been been a great place to explore books from local writers, feminists, LGBT authors, and political activists. Their selection of children's books is unparalleled.  Next time you're in Chicago, head on up to Andersonville and tell them the staff at The Awakening Center sent you!

Nancy is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She sees clients individually and facilitates the DBT group, two meditation groups, and an ED therapy group. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 17 or at nancyhalltac@gmail.com.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Meditation Monday: Lessons from a Busted AC

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 nancyhalltac@gmail.com

The air conditioning at The Awakening Center has not been working for nearly two weeks. And when I say not working, I mean dead, kaput, get out the bugle and play “Taps.” And it’s been hot here in Chicago. Needless to say, my reaction to this hasn’t been the most gracious.

I actually like summer. But I do not like to be hot indoors. There is something about it that makes me feel sort of cornered. It’s hard to describe. I get antsy and distracted. I fantasize about driving around with the AC on max. I look for a reason to go to a grocery store so I can loiter in the frozen foods section. Being outside in hot weather is different from being inside. It just is.

I know—first-world problem. I have lived without AC and survived it just fine. But it took a recent group and time with my clients to help me gain some perspective and get my sweaty head out of my own…well, you know.

During the most recent meditation group, the window was open and fans were on high. Birds sang as I led the group through a progressive relaxation. As we processed the meditation, one participant noted how once her eyes were closed, she felt like a kid again. The gentle whirring of the fans and the street sounds took her back to summertime from her childhood. Days spent playing and then napping when the heat became overwhelming. She remembered lying on the couch, pulling her hair up off her neck, hoping for a little relief.

These were not days without stress or worry. But she was able to connect to moments of presence. When time seemed to stand still as the sweat rolled down her temple. To a time when acceptance was the only option when it came to summer heat.

I realized then that fighting the heat just made me feel more uncomfortable. The more I worried about my melting makeup, my sagging humidity-laden hair, or whether I put on enough deodorant, the more disconnected I became. Yes, it’s been hot and stuffy and sticky and stinky—all of that. But so what. It’s also been vibrant and alive—which is wonderful.

Oh, and a new AC is on its way thank goodness!

Enjoy your practice.