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.