How to Stay Motivated

How to Stay Motivated

When I first started working with therapy clients in my own private practice, I never anticipated the volume of conversations I would be having with them about motivation. This is not a complaint. I love helping people get to the bottom of what is going on inside them at a deep level. But the frequency of these conversations seems to point to something universal underlying this ubiquitous struggle.

If you are currently struggling with motivation, let’s zoom out for a moment. Look at the overall picture of your life. What are you spending most of your time doing? Why? Do you feel like you have a good sense of where things are (hopefully) going? If you do, do you have a good sense of the reasons WHY you want things to go that way? Are those reasons based on your own authentic values and not someone else’s, societies, or your mom’s or dad’s? Do you know what your authentic values are?

If you answered, “Uhh. . .” to any of those questions, then that would be the place to start, way before we get into motivation “hacks”. Any set of hacks or tricks to help you feel like the duracell bunny when you honestly don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you maybe don’t even like what you’re doing, and you maybe have some unexamined reasons for trying to do that thing in the first place. . . . will be a very short-term (and short-lived), superficial solution.

So if you really care about getting to the bottom of your struggle with motivation, pause what you are doing right now, stop reading this article, and journal out your answers to those questions before continuing. You can use an awesome core values list like the one James Clear makes available on his website to start getting to the bottom of what yours are. Challenge yourself to choose your top 5. (Like, if you were stranded on a desert island and you could only take 5 values with you, which ones would they be? It doesn’t mean you have to abandon the other ones. Just narrow down.) Then your top 3. Then your top 1! Is your life organized around living in alignment with that value (and ideally, with each of those top values)? If not, pause right here and do some long, hard thinking and journaling about how you might rearrange your life, goals and priorities to put your most authentically prized values at the center. Oh, and a happy side effect of this: You might find that the elusive butterfly of happiness seems to alight more frequently on your shoulder when your life is organized around your authentic values. But I digress!

So let’s assume you’ve got all that stuff figured out. You know your authentic values, your life, time and energy are all organized around them, you have a good sense of where things are going in your life and a good sense of the deep reasons why. Some coaches call this ‘the why that makes you cry.’ To find a ‘why that makes you cry,’ ask yourself why you’re doing something, and then ask yourself why again, and then again, until you touch the bedrock of something really tender underneath. For example, “Why are you taking your daughter to the park?” “Because it makes her happy.” “Why do you want to make her happy?” “Because her happiness is my happiness and I would die for her.” You get the gist. Typically it will take more than two whys to get there. And this brings us to our first . . . “trick”. (I don’t like the word “hack”. I’m tempted to write #sorrynotsorry. Whoops! I just did.)

Post your deep why somewhere visible. Post it above the place where your alarm goes off so that you see it when you make the choice NOT to press snooze every morning 😉 Post it over your work desk or working area. Put it into your phone as a reminder with a daily alarm. Tattoo it on your hand if you need to. Just make sure you don’t forget it. Make sure it is ever present, resounding in your head like a bell.

This might sound really basic, but take inventory of your basic self-care routine. I mean really basic. Are you getting enough sleep (roughly 8 hours) every night? Are you able to get in roughly 3 reasonably healthy meals per day? Are you drinking enough water? If you answered, “Uhh. . .” to any of those questions, then that might be another place where we need to go back to the drawing board. If you are experiencing food scarcity, please look for a hunger relief organization near you, like Feeding America. (Also, I wish things were different and I wish it didn’t have to be “on you” to pull on your bootstraps and figure out where the nearest hunger relief organization is, if there is one nearby. I wish we all took care of each other better.) Additionally, you may think you are getting enough to eat but still have a nutrient deficiency, which can impact your energy levels (and therefore, your motivation). If you go to your PCP for a regular checkup, you can ask to have bloodwork done specifically checking for any type of nutrient deficiency you may have.

Though nutritional suggestions (beyond the paragraph above) would be beyond my scope of practice, it should go without saying that whatever foods and supplements seem to support your body’s natural sleeping and waking cycles should be the ones you stick with. Overdoing it on caffeine because you’re experiencing fatigue or low motivation can have the opposite of the intended effect, interrupting your body’s natural sleep rhythms, leaving you morse tired during the day, and more likely to reach for more caffeine, perpetuating the cycle. Similarly, alcohol interrupts your body’s natural sleep cycle, impacting your energy and motivation levels the next day. Also, I know this is not the hip thing to say right now, but studies do seem to strongly suggest that marijuana does have an impact on overall motivation, so take a look at that as well.

Another thing you might try is a little bit of good ol’ behaviorism. In other words, build a reward system into your calendar and into the way you get things done. Set measurable, realistic, achievable goals for the day and for the week, and plan in advance to do something really nice for yourself if you meet those goals. Something you would actually really be excited and happy about. Plug it into your calendar ahead of time so that you are actively looking forward to it as you start working on things during the week.

Another thing you might consider is that you are simply trying to do too much. When we set impossible goals for ourselves, it can be totally overwhelming and paralyzing and then we revert into doing nothing at all. Return to the previous paragraph. Set reasonable goals for yourself. It will only increase your ability to stay motivated.

Additionally, we all have different motivation ‘styles’. Some people are more accountability-oriented. Some really need to know WHY they’re doing something in order to feel motivated to do it. Some have a more ‘rebellious’ motivation style and will feel de-motivated literally because someone else told them to do it. Some (lucky ducks) have a more type-A style and they will get things done just because it’s in the calendar. Figure out your style and leverage it. Example: If you need accountability, build accountability into your lifestyle. It will keep you motivated.

Lastly, some clinical concerns like depression can have a serious impact on motivation. If you’re not sure whether or not depression might be part of the picture for you, talking to a licensed therapist can really help. Click the red link below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation to find out if therapy might be right for you.

How to Cope with Loneliness and Longing to Have a Partner

There is a great loneliness at the heart of postmodern society. To give a brief history of loneliness, we would do well to remember that from the times of the earliest members of the species Homo sapiens, we have rarely hunted or homesteaded alone. In fact, it is likely the case that we developed larger, more complex brains (more neurons and connections) than other primates in order to be able to socially interact within relatively larger groups of up to 150 individuals. The larger the group, the more safety and protection, and the greater the odds of survival. But that’s a lot of names to remember, politics to track, and implicit and explicit rules on which to stay versed. Hence the evolutionary need for a larger, more complex brain. Language, also, emerges from and as the result of social interaction. In other words, human beings are a deeply social species. The brain centers that light up when our brains are in unstimulated default mode are the ones most heavily implicated in social intelligence and social interactions.

Many humans still live in villages, pods and collectives that resemble much more closely the kind of social configuration that would feel most natural to a member of our species. However, due to a myriad of factors, humans in most postindustrial societies have been finding themselves in increasingly isolated worlds. Add COVID (and the increasingly remote post-COVID world) to that, and you’ve got a potent cocktail of loneliness for a staggering number of people, especially single adults in urban areas. Put simply, it’s easy to forget, but the COVID life of a single adult in a postmodern urban area is miles away from what would feel like a natural social situation to any member of our species.

This is an important context to hold in mind when considering your own loneliness or the loneliness of any other human being. It makes sense that we are lonely. Most of us are starved for the level of connection that would be natural and healthy for a member of our species. I sometimes tell my clients, “Imagine pulling a wolf out of its pack or a deer out of its herd, or an orca out of its pod and telling it, ‘All the answers are within you and you just need to figure things out for yourself now.” That would be cruel, right? So why do we do it to ourselves?

It is for these reasons that, over the course of my career in the mental health field, I have had countless conversations with people about how to build more connections, nurture the ones they have, and overall spend less time alone.

Now, in the realm of connecting deeply and spending time with other humans, (generally speaking) no type of human connection seems more highly prized or sought after than the intimate partner connection. There are very good reasons for this. Why wouldn’t you want some attractive and wonderful person to know the deepest depths of your soul, be with you day and night, and also be available for regular sex? Sounds like a dream (especially when you’re single). Also, ever since the Romantic era, Western cultures have glorified the romantic relationship as one of life’s ultimate treasures. The primacy of the life partner increased with the rise of the idyllic nuclear family image of the 1950s. (I.e., If the only other adult you ever interact with at home is your partner, rather than other adults in a more communal situation, then that person is pretty darn important.) And the reality is that, in our current COVID-shaped world, the primary partner has become an even more incredibly important social pillar for many adults. And for those who are single, the primary partner seems to have become an even more incredibly important dream.

Believe it or not, all of that context has been necessary to the suggestions I am about to offer. There is often something strangely salvific about tracing our current personal hell through broader social and historical contexts. Also, I want you to really understand and buy into where these suggestions are coming from. So here we go, your personal formula for reducing the pain of loneliness and longing for a partner right now, today:

1) Contemplate the natural, healthy level of ongoing social interacting and connecting in which the vast majority of your ancestors would have been engaged, and compare that to your current reality. How large is the chasm? Now take steps to increase the interacting and connecting you are doing on a daily and weekly basis right now. Face-to-face is ideal but Zoom, calling and even texting are better than nothing. I know it sounds like lentil soup compared to the five course meal of a romantic connection, but lentil soup still fills you up when you’re hungry and it’s good for you besides. It does the trick. I know you don’t believe me now, but you’ll be surprised.

2) Oftentimes, longing to have a partner is made more unbearable by a stream of limiting beliefs and cognitive errors about what will happen and what won’t ever happen. For example, “I am going to be lonely forever. No one will ever want to be with me.” Bullshit. There are a lot of other people out there in the world, and a lot of them are lonely, too. I would consider it to be highly strange, maybe even a little miraculous, if someone was actively desiring a partner, actively hanging out with their friends and family and maybe also making a little use of dating apps (to taste) and still spent the rest of their lives single. Get real. If you keep doing those three things, it will eventually happen, most likely over the course of a year, or maybe two years. So whenever you are starting to feel really down about being single, stop yourself and check in about the thoughts going through your head. Are those thoughts necessarily true in all cases? Would you say those things to someone you love? This practice won’t extinguish negative self-talk forever, but it will make you more of a pro at noticing it when it starts to happen, and making a different choice.

3) Since you’re going to commit to doing those three things over the next two years, you may as well use them to really live it up and do things that are much, much easier to do while you are single. Things like exploring all the potentialities of your full sexual expression and liberation, writing your novel, or really getting to the bottom of who you are at a deep level. Periods of singleness are often the greatest times of true soul-making in our adult lives. No partner is there to influence our taste in music, the way we like to dress, or our unique, unrepeatable perspective on life. Make a commitment to cultivating a deep sense of who you are with or without a partner. Be indulgent. Go on a retreat, if you can. See if you can get to the point of actually feeling grateful for this precious time when you get to focus on yourself and finding out who you are.

4) In that vein, your relationship with yourself is the single most important relationship of your life, so you may as well use this time to make sure it’s a beautiful one. You could read a book like How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People) by Lodro Rinzler and Meggan Watterson. This ‘love yourself’ suggestion is not meant to bypass your very real need for social connection (see suggestion 1). Still, genuine self-love and self-compassion will truly change the overall quality and tone of your life. Don’t believe me now? Try suggestion 5.

5) Look at today’s date on the calendar. Then look ahead 365 days into the future. Decide that, starting today and for the next 365 days, you are going to ask yourself with every little decision, even seemingly insignificant or trivial ones, ‘What would someone who loved themselves do?’ Sounds simple, I know. But I’ve seen this powerful practice change the overall quality and tone of people’s lives over and over again. It will probably change your life course in a more loving direction, and who wouldn’t want that?

Oftentimes these practices can bring things up for people, depending on their unique perspectives and life experiences. Working with a therapist or coach can really help you to knock this kind of thing out of the park. Click the link below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call if you’re curious about how this might be helpful for you.

A Guide to Spiritually Oriented Therapy – Is it Right for You?

First of all, what is spiritually oriented therapy and how does it differ from regular psychotherapy? A tome could be written on this, and more than one already has been! To put it very simply, spiritually oriented therapy is open to the idea that psychotherapy is a sacred activity or even a spiritual practice, that the sacred can be expressed in psychotherapy in a number of ways, that the spiritual dimension of presenting issues can be discerned, and that classically spiritual issues like faith, love, forgiveness and hope regularly come up in psychotherapy.  Additionally, spiritually oriented therapy takes seriously the notion that psychotherapy can legitimately be seen as care of the soul, as a forum for discovering one’s own spiritual direction, as a rich arena for experiencing and exploring the nondual perspective, and perhaps most importantly of all, a relationship within which the perennial mystery of suffering can be honored and tended, and one’s own unique, even sacred meaning can be made of one’s trials.  Let’s unpack each of those, shall we?


THERAPY AS A SACRED ACTIVITY:  “For millennia, physical and psychological healing was the province of shamans, medicine men and women, priests and priestesses.” (Lionel Corbett, The Sacred Cauldron: Psychotherapy as a Spiritual Practice)  Modern psychotherapies have been compared to ‘the cure of souls,’ (alternatively called, ‘the care of souls’), considered to be an important aspect of priestcraft within traditional Christianity.  Western psychology and psychotherapy have sought to vigorously sever themselves from any likeness of this sort and to be accepted into the fold of legitimately scientific disciplines for about the past century, reaching an apex in the 1950s with the behaviorists and their ultra-materialist lust for all things observable, quantifiable.  Hence the fervor for evidence-based practices.  Spiritually oriented therapy views therapy as a science, and an art form, and a sacred practice for all participants.  Spiritually oriented therapy leans into this likeness rather than covering it with the fig leaf of endless randomized control trials.

(This is not to imply that spiritually oriented therapy is not an evidence-based therapy.  Many spiritually-oriented therapists will blend a spiritual orientation with an evidence-based approach, like EMDR.  That is what I do in my practice.  However, therapies that address the deeper levels of a presenting issue tend to perform even better than evidence-based buzzword therapies, like CBT, in surveys taken years after completing therapy.  Basically, participants who had received psychoanalytic psychotherapy, EMDR, or another depth-based approach experienced results that held up years later, while participants in classic, pure CBT tended to have results immediately after a course of treatment.  Years later, though, results for the uber-popular evidence-based therapy, CBT, did not actually hold up.  I contend that this is because the plant was trimmed but the problem at the root was left unaddressed.)

Therapy may be seen as a spiritual practice for both participants in the therapeutic dyad.  For the therapist, it can be a spiritual practice to remain seated for hours, hearing volumes of the inner thoughts and pains of others in non-judgment, and holding all of this forever in confidence.  If the therapist is inclined towards the Dalai Lama’s sentiment that the heart of true spirituality is service and compassion, then providing therapy is a spiritual practice through and through.  Additionally, therapy can be viewed by the client as a practice of slowly becoming more and more conscious of one’s own defenses, attachment style, values, deepest desires and needs, in order to show up with more kindness, maturity and authenticity in the world and in our most important relationships.  Becoming more and more conscious could certainly be viewed as a spiritual practice.


THE EXPRESSION OF THE SACRED IN THERAPY: ‘Sacred’ is a very broad term, and therefore, the concept of experiences or expressions of it is also too broad to explore here.  Suffice it to say that for most people, the expression or experience of the sacred is known in a deeply personal, sometimes entirely private way, rarely articulated way.  Very often, the sacred has a feeling signature in the body, and each person recognizes this signature in their body in their own way.  Spiritually oriented therapy takes seriously that the sacred is a recognizable embodied feeling signature for most people, and that healing is more likely to take place in an environment where it is allowed or invited than in a scrubbed clean totally clinical setting with flourescent lights, though healing can occur there, too.

The spiritually oriented therapist accepts that their clients are likely to have had experiences of the sacred outside of therapy, and appreciates that these experiences can have profound qualities that sometimes even interrupt the client’s normal sense of reality.  The spiritually oriented therapist will more readily consider that their client has had a numinous experience (whether pleasant or unpleasant), and will consider this before jumping to pathologize the experience.


THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE PRESENTING PROBLEM: According to Carl Jung, a psychological complex almost always has a transpersonal core.  What does that mean?  For example, a mother complex may appear, on the surface, to be a set of issues stemming from a problematic childhood relationship with the mother which continue to crop up in adult life in maladaptive ways, causing the sufferer a great deal of embarrassment, shame, or other difficulty.  From a Jungian perspective, this complex can be viewed as a cluster of badly digested memories, core beliefs, painful stories and thoughts that continue to spin off of the complex into the present life of the client.  At the center of the complex, however, is the archetype of the Divine Feminine, in Her light and dark aspects.  It is in this way that the issue goes beyond the individual and actually touches a tremendous, collective, transpersonal force, that of the Feminine Principle.  It is also in this way that the spiritually oriented therapist is able to appreciate the depth of their client’s struggle.  What may appear trivial to an outsider is appreciated by the spiritually oriented therapist as carrying the depth and intensity of a battle with the gods.


CLASSICALLY SPIRITUAL ISSUES IN PSYCHOTHERAPY: Therapists regularly encounter issues of faith, love, hope, mortality, suffering and forgiveness in their offices, issues which are often brought to the church, the temple or the synagogue.  Spiritually oriented therapy seeks to understand how the client’s current spiritual belief system may be helping or exacerbating any one of these issues, and allows for the client’s own process in finding their own relationship to their own tradition, or in making their own meaning more generally, with regards to these perennial concerns.


THERAPY AS CARE OF THE SOUL: In a 2018 TED Talk on the Irish language, Donall O Healai told a story of a people who had traveled for many moons, and who were a very happy people, always dancing, laughing and singing.  After several months of nonstop travel, they paused, and the leader among them became silent.  All the other members of the group followed suit and soon there was a hush over all of them.  The leader closed his eyes, became very still, and appeared to turn inward.  When a traveling companion asked the leader what he was doing, the leader replied, “We have traveled so far, and so fast, that now we must stop and allow our souls to catch up.”  Spiritually oriented therapy takes seriously the idea that the therapy hour is a special time and space where the soul can be allowed to catch up.  Enough said (though more could always be said)!


SPIRITUAL DIRECTION IN THERAPY: It is important to distinguish between the spiritually oriented therapist and the spiritual director.  A spiritual director may provide directives, suggestions and advice which leads the participant in a particular direction.  The spiritually oriented therapist approaches the client with utter curiosity.  The attitude is, “I don’t know what your life is supposed to do.  I’m very interested, though.  Let’s take a look at this!”  According to Carl Jung, after successful psychoanalysis, a natural Christian will have become a Christian, and a natural Pagan will have become a Pagan.  The spiritually oriented therapist will likely appreciate this, and may be pulling for the participant in therapy to find their natural tradition, or their own answers, or even just their own relationship to overwhelming mystery, and practices for tolerating not knowing.  Above all, a good spiritually oriented therapist should always nudge their client towards finding their own soul-voice, their own sovereignty, and their own inner knowing about what is right for them, and trusting that as the highest spiritual authority in their life.


THE NONDUAL PERSPECTIVE IN THERAPY: There is a quiet revolution of Copernican proportions currently taking place in the scientific community.  Essentially, the question is this: Is matter the primary medium of reality, or is consciousness the primary medium of reality?  Some of the most brilliant neuroscientists who’ve ever lived have spent their entire careers trying to demonstrate how it is that the physical brain gives rise to consciousness and have never been able to do so.  It’s called the hard problem in philosophy and neuroscience.  Mark Gober, in An End to Upside Down Thinking describes his concept of consciousness this way:  Consciousness is universal.  It’s like water.  Individual units of consciousness (like you, or me, or another subjective individual) are like whirlpools within the river of consciousness.  Sometimes, some water from one whirlpool spins out and is caught by a nearby whirlpool.  He states that this accounts for many of what are called ‘paranormal’ experiences, such as parallel dreams, thinking the same thing at the same time, and many more.  A spiritually oriented therapist will consider that this strange, acausal connectedness that seems to be woven into the fabric of our world may account for the fact that they continue to attract people who are working on the same issue over and over, and that it is an issue with deep, personal significance to the therapist themselves.

Many spiritual teachers and traditions refer to one consciousness of which we are each an expression.  Because of this uncanny water-sharing aspect of consciousness, spiritually oriented therapists may often refer to the feeling of the “space between” without making an overt statement about either person in the relationship.  In depth psychology, the concept of the Self (with a capital ‘S’) is sometimes invoked to describe the force that seems to come through in the therapy relationship from time to time, which is bigger than the therapist and the client.  For example, a spiritually oriented therapist may state that, once in a while, when they get out of their own way, they find themselves saying the most powerful, perfect words for a given moment, but it’s as if the words are speaking through them.  It is not called on at will.  In some ways, this is the oracular aspect of traditional therapy.  Oracles, psychics and healers of a myriad of traditions will often say, when I get “Annalise Oatman” out of the way, that’s when I’m able to say what needs to be said.


SUFFERING AND MEANING IN SPIRITUALLY ORIENTED THERAPY : Sometimes, suffering is at its worst when it appears to have no point and no meaning.  Spiritually oriented therapy assists in constructing unique, sacred meaning of suffering (past or present), or allows the participant to develop the level of self-compassion necessary to find practices for tolerating meaninglessness if meaning cannot be found.  The spiritually oriented therapist may offer fairy tales or mythos that parallel their client’s struggle as a way for the client to see themselves in relationship to larger, universal, even cosmic patterns.  Additionally, a spiritually oriented therapist may offer practices for using pain, sadness or unpleasant emotions as a doorway into connection with all sentient beings.  For example, the spiritual teacher Pema Chodron once stated that when she feels inadequacy, she knows she is feeling the inadequacy of all beings.  The same can be applied to all difficult feeling states.


If you have questions or would like to learn more, click here to schedule a free, 20-minute consultation.



Why I Won’t Be Blogging Regularly Anymore

I’m going to change my writing rhythm and I want to explain the reasons why.  Before I do, I have to admit I’ve always been susceptible to transpersonal ideas, so be aware of that as you read me.  I always endeavor to remain aware of it myself.  Maybe it’s not the susceptibility itself that needs to be remembered as a matter of intellectual integrity, but the fact that I sometimes take delight in transpersonal ideas.  The important thing to remember is that my delight neither makes the ideas true nor false.  It must be said though, before moving on, that there is certainly a dimension of subjective human experience that can only be described as transpersonal.  (Another subject to which I’ll have to attend elsewhere.)  Now, with that hefty disclaimer out of the way . . .


The air began to feel distinctly different as soon as the shelter-in-place order descended over Orange County.  It typically seems like there is some kind of collective thought stream that lives in the air here, and it is filled with frantic agendas, urgent exigencies, and all manner of rushing.  The air literally felt different as I sat outside on one of the first warm afternoons of the lockdown.  It felt more still, and more wise.  I am reminded of Carl Jung’s prophetic line from his final book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, on the advancement of technological gadgets:


Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the temple of life, and leave us with less time than ever before.


Not long after that line, in the same work, he wrote,


All haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.


The shelter-in-place order has given me occasion to contemplate my content-pumping.  The new marketing landscape of therapists in private practice heavily emphasizes rhythmic content production, SEO maximization, etc., etc.  Most therapists are connected to ListServs, content producers and forums of all kinds that fill all of our regular channels of communication with daily messages (both implicit and explicit) about the importance of, well, content-pumping.  There was always a very quiet, little part of me that had a distaste for this.  But it’s so hard to hear that part when all of our channels of regular communication and content consumption are filled to the brim with the same messages, repeated over and over, seemingly by everyone.  That’s a lot of noise.  And it requires some stillness and some quiet to hear your soul speaking.


I decided that I wanted to allow this quiet, little part full expression.  Let’s call it my soul.  (I hope you’ll humor another disclaimer here:  What my soul says does not need to be what every soul says.  My soul voice is not “more right” than or “better” than any other soul voice.  However, I do need to keep an ear down very, very close to it as much as I possibly can, and I’ll explain why in a moment.)  Here is what my soul has to say about content-pumping:


[***Removed because my gut and my inner clinician are telling me that I am getting just a tad bit too personal here, to the extent that I am creating the remote possibility of negatively impacting the work I’ve already done with some folx.  National and international crises seem to create a huge temptation for clinicians, myself included, to let down their professional guard, and I intend to be ever-vigilant of that and not allow it to diminish my professional integrity to the slightest degree if I can help it.  Being human, and also sharing a bit of personal information online is a very nuanced dance that modern psychotherapists are still figuring out.  Suffice it to say that my soul informed me, in lyrical and passionate style, that weekly blogging doesn’t suit its respect for the craft of writing.  Oh, and my soul mentioned Typhon.  Would insert laughing emjoi here if I could.]


Let me explain at this point that Typhon, in Greek mythology, was the youngest son of Gaea (earth) and Tartarus (of the nether world).  There is no need to explain the entire myth series behind this name.  It is only important (for our purposes) to note that he was described as having hundreds, if not thousands, of heads.  By some accounts, they were all dragon heads.  At any rate, think of him as a many-headed being, or monster, as you like.  One of his stories involves the meeting of Typhon and a young musician carrying a flute.  Rather than play the music of his heart, the young musician must figure out what kind of music will most please Typhon, and then he plays that music.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain the parallel with producing content that seems to please the many, or which seems to please the new Typhon of SEO.


Now, please understand that I am not criticizing the manner of content production engaged in by any of my colleagues.  One of the tenets of modern marketing that I do find to be wonderful and agreeable is the idea that your ideal clients are out there, and if your marketing gets you in front of them so that they can get the help they’re looking for, and it provides value and some small service to others for free, then why the hell not?  I do not disagree with this.  In fact, I really like this.  It’s just that I respect the craft of writing so much that it hurts my soul a little bit to rhythmically pump SEO-Typhon-pleasing pieces, rather than to create as my soul, my inner artist, is truly inspired to create, with the painstaking care of an artist’s hand.  It feels like the difference between putting out sugar water once per week and putting out whiskey once per year.


As therapists, we are akin to a modern, secular priesthood (or priestesshood).  I have always found it important to consider that the root of the word ‘psyche’ (what we work with and should know deeply, by trade) is the Greek psykhe, which means (to put it simply), soul.  How can I be a technician of the soul if I do not listen to my own and know it very well?  I believe it is my responsibility to keep an ear down very, very close to my own soul.  Otherwise how can I help others do the same?  How can I then claim to understand the realm within which I am supposedly working?  Again, just because super-regular content production is not right for me does not mean that it is not right for everyone.  The most important thing is that I try to practice hearing and honoring what is right for me.  This feels like integrity.


I have decided to channel my writing energies into another, larger project.  I may continue to blog erratically, as inspired, and whenever I feel I can put something together that might ease the suffering of others in some small way.  I will keep my old blog posts up in case they provide inspiration, hope, help, or solace to anyone who happens to stumble through.  One of the radical overhauls brought to my business by the COVID-19 winter has been a dramatic shift towards Medi-Cal clients making up the bulk of my caseload, and I am very grateful and honored.  Marketing is not an urgent necessity, as the demand for therapists who accept Medi-Cal is large (and growing) and my practice is small.  Medi-Cal requires more paperwork on my part.  But I’ve figured out my systems to keep that paperwork machine in motion.  And I can focus, now, on the longer, slower art form of making peated whiskey.


If you want to chat (I do free, 20-minute consultations to see if I or someone else might be the best therapist for you), click here to see when I’m available.




Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

Trapped-at-Home Care Bundle

     Let’s face it:  These are dark days.  Projections for the coming months by renowned epidemiologists and public health experts are somber at best.  I just realized I haven’t even written the ‘C-word’ yet.  I don’t believe I need to.  Since many of us are currently challenged to the core, I would like to offer a bundle of mental and emotional wellness-boosting tools and ideas, some of which (as it turns out) are immunity-boosting as well.
1) GET FRESH AIR AND SUNLIGHT:  If you’re fairly certain you’re not sick, see if you can get out for a 10-minute walk once per day, while maintaining appropriate social distancing (at least 6 feet from passers by).  It seems simple, but breaking your day up with little, simple retreats or walks can have a huge impact on your mood and on the overall quality of your day.  Although I am not qualified to give medical advice, I would like to include the finding of Georgetown Medical University that sunlight just so happens to energize infection-fighting T cells.
2) CALL SOMEONE: Humans are a deeply social species.  We always were.  We are like wolves or deer, except even more intense than that (as the result of our complex nervous system and complex emotional life).  Would you separate a wolf from its pack, or a deer from the herd, and tell it, Okay, you’re just going to have to figure things out on your own now.  But don’t worry– the answers are all within you ?  I don’t think you would.  I think you would consider that to be cruel.  Well, we do that all the time to our fellow humans, and most of us underestimate both our own intense need for connection, and the intense emotional and mental wellness boost that we get from connection and belonging.  You don’t think it applies to you?  Funny thing, that loneliness pandemic going on out there . . . 😉
Try scheduling it, especially if you are currently sheltering in place in a studio alone.  At least one person per day.  Put it in the calendar.  A full hour of catching up and connection, every day, maybe over dinner, at the very least.
3) NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A SCHEDULE: One of the weird things about being trapped at home is that all the different parts of your life seem to blend together into one overwhelming activity-soup.  Try this:  Write your ideal weekly schedule into a Google doc, or onto seven sheets of regular A4 computer paper, with one page for each day of the week.  Plug your ideal, scheduled activities into little bracketed chunks of the day, and do your best to stick to your schedule.  For the first week, write notes about what’s not working, what you forgot to take into account, and what might need to be tweaked.  Then work those fixes into the Google doc, print it, and try it again the following week.  If this doesn’t make you feel a tiny bit better, I’ll be a darned sock.
4) RE-DECORATE, RE-ORGANIZE AND DE-CLUTTER: It’s your home. You are stuck there.  You might as well beautify it.  According to the University of Minnesota, the environment can influence our behavior, our motivation to act, and our overall mood.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that and don’t need research to convince you.  The COVID slowdown could be an opportunity to finally clear out some crap.  Researchers have shown that clutter, specifically, diminishes motivation and productivity.  I am including this in case time management and productivity are currently an issue for you during this crisis.  They may not be.  (Example:  You may be using this as an opportunity to question every part of your participation in capitalism, and to deeply contemplate what your busy-ness has really been about.)  There is no right or wrong here.
5) MEDITATE:  More research for you here.  According to Harvard Medical School, about 10 minutes of daily meditation in the morning seems to reduce anxiety and mental stress.  Since anxiety and panic have been almost palpable in the air lately, meditation seems like an invaluable tool to add to the bundle.  Oh!  And apparently it also boosts immunity, according to the New York Academy of Sciences, and other research institutes.
6) MAKE TEA AND KEEP COZY:  You may be drinking less, even if alcohol has been a substance of choice for you.  Tea is nonperishable, you can usually use the bags twice, and it’s a great way to get the tiny little dopamine push of “treating” yourself throughout the day.  (You know, that same little dopamine push that you used to get from “treating” yourself with alcohol?)  As if that wasn’t enough, research demonstrates that the aroma of some herbal teas, like chamomile and peppermint, may reduce feelings of frustration, anxiety and mental fatigue.  It’s a good way to stay hydrated and keep your throat moist.  Let’s face it.  That can’t hurt.  (Again, I’m not a medical doctor.  Some teas, like ginger, can interact with some SSRIs, so please consult with your MD, whenever they have a moment, or your psychiatrist if you’re concerned about how some blends might affect you.)  You may as well keep yourself as cozy as you like and pretend like it’s a little winter vacation in the mountains.
7) GET HEALTHY, BUT BE FORGIVING, TOO:  Why not use this as an excuse to get healthier?  Again, I can’t and don’t intend to give medical or nutritional advice here, but I’m sure we’re all aware that treating your body a little better (with adequate sleep and rest and adequate nutrition) enhances your immunity.  Check in with your own body about what it needs, and honor that.  Thank your wonderful body for giving you a chance to be here, and for weathering all the germ onslaughts that it already has.  I want to be sensitive to the fact that different readers may have different health statuses, so please take this as an invitation to care for, love, honor and bless your body.  And don’t worry about getting it perfect.  If alcohol is your mistress, a couple drinks every couple weeks seems very, very reasonable.  We may be in this COVID winter for a few more months at least, and we want to keep alive (within reason) the things that help us to feel like life as we know it is continuing.
8) KNOW WHEN INFORMATION CROSSES THE ‘HELPFUL’ THRESHOLD:  It is wonderful to be informed.  Please be informed.  But know your limits, too.  Beyond reasonable updates on the unfolding health status of your community, state, country, and planet (so that you’re not totally in the dark), and checking reputable sources (like the CDC or Red Cross) about ways to prevent your own infection and that of others, you really do not need to read every push notification, every grim headline.  Take care of your body, be respectful of others, and connect with others.  That is your business right now.  Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.  The serenity prayer is a helpful mantra for these times.  I also do not want to trivialize the fact that acceptance of a situation like this can be a profound spiritual discipline.
9) DEEPEN YOUR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: To put it very bluntly, this situation is making each and every one of us look at our mortality and fragility much more squarely.  It is not fun.  An individual’s unique spirituality does not have to map onto any specific tradition or institution too deeply.  What it can do, ideally, is to offer some solace and a way to make meaning of adversity and suffering.  Most of the time, the true spirituality of the individual is something very private, even secret, difficult to articulate, and is often held and known in the body or the heart.  If you’re not sure, maybe you can borrow a leaf from Amma, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the Hugging Saint, who says, simply, Love is my religion.  Meditate on that.
10) SLOW DOWN: Take the current crisis as an invitation to slow down.  What was all that busy-ness about anyway?  Be honest.  It seems like the culture equates busy-ness with status, somehow.  If someone is very important, they must have lots of things to do, right?  Question that.  What if everyone is equally important?  What if the purpose of human life is not to be the busiest one of all, and the value of a human life is not derived from anything like that?  Contemplate that.  How might you live more wisely and intentionally as the result of this event?
11) FINALLY GET TO THOSE BOOKS AND PROJECTS:  You might as well.  Bill Gates takes reading vacations.  I think it’s a brilliant idea.  The pace of modern life almost doesn’t allow for reading anymore.  Use this time as an experiment to find out how you might develop yourself and use your time and your life if society was organized a little differently.  What would you read?  What would you make?  What’s stopping you even now?
12) BECOME AN EMOTIONAL ATHLETE:  Over the course of you life, you are going to get to know anxiety and fear real well.  Maybe this is an opportunity to practice your skills at surfing the waves of emotion (to use a Jack Kornfield metaphor).  Anxiety experts contend that pushing against anxiety tends to make it stronger.  So we need to learn to say hello to it when it comes.  Emotions, even the most powerful ones, are always being held within a wider frame of awareness.  Let emotions know that they can burn you to the ground if they want to, and you’ll still be here when they’re done, breathing, in, out, in, out.  And that will be true until the final moment of your life.  Who knows?  It may continue to be true after that!  I really have no idea.
13) PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION:  Self-compassion will allow you to use all your other tools more effectively.  ‘Nuf said.
11) BEGIN TO TELL A NEW STORY:  The odds are not terrible that the stories you’ve recently been playing on repeat within the private theater of your mind are horror stories and tragedies.  Let me just start by saying that fear, anxiety and sadness are all valid emotional reactions to what is happening.  However, there are many layers and dimensions to this event, as with any event of global import.  The scary and tragic parts of this event are absolutely real.  But there may be another dimension of the story, equally real, but not quite as outwardly obvious yet.  This is the dimension of ongoing influence, paradigm shift, awakening and revolution.  You can begin to tell the story now of how this event, as dreadful as it is, may be one of the big labor pangs of a new era, a new earth.  That doesn’t mean it has to feel nice.  (Ooph!  Tell that to any woman who’s ever given birth!)  And it doesn’t mean that, if I was queen of the world, I would green light this and say it’s wonderful.
This is more like what I’m talking about:  The prose poem by an American teacher, inspired by the Coronavirus pandemic, which has recently gone viral:
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
~Kitty O’Meara
How will you tell this story?  Schedule a call with me here  if you’re needing support, or needing support with finding support.  I’m here for you.





Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

How to Dance with Fear

It seems like both fear and COVID-19 are global pandemics in equal measure at the time of this writing (Thursday, March 19th, 2020).  I usually tell my clients that their emotional reactions to events and situations are always valid, because they are always emotionally reacting, quite helplessly, to their own subjective perception of the event or situation.  An emotional reaction is like a skin reaction.  Again, it is a helpless reaction to the subjective perception of the event or situation.  Now, our subjective perception can be heavily overlaid or influenced by events, messages, lenses or traumatic occurrences from the past, and our subjective perception is often patchy or flawed and is not, and can never be, objective truth.  And it is important to separate emotional reaction from emotional response in this context.  That could be a topic for another time.

What makes the current situation so terrifically daunting and frankly, a mind fuck, to grapple with are the many layers and dimensions of unknowns.  We do not know which of our loved ones will be impacted, nor to what degree.  We do not know the exact percentage of the adult population that will become infected, nor whether we will be among them, nor when.  In the United States, perhaps we do not even know if we are already infected (as the result of the dearth of testing kits here).  We do not know the long-term effects of the illness, nor the exact toll it will take on the economy, nor the number of fatalities we should expect to see in the coming year, nor the long-term impact this will have on the way we organize ourselves as a work force and as a global community in constant relationship with our supporting planet and all other life forms with which we share it.  At the time of this writing, we are sitting together very much inside of the unknown.  And that is what we are emotionally reacting to, and our emotional reactions to that are valid.

. . . and most people fear the unknown.  There is a vast vesica piscis between the unknown and death in the collective imagination.  Death is the ultimate unknown.  And I often say that all fear is ultimately a fear of death, or of pain (physical or emotional).  Anything with a central nervous system is going to fear and resist pain and death like crazy.  We are mortal beings with central nervous systems, so a huge part of us is going to fear and resist pain and death like crazy.

Maybe this is part of the divine human task.  I love Sera Beek’s idea that the divine human task is to love through the shit.  Maybe it is also to fully inhabit our animal bodies while coming to know, in one way or another, our little dose of what Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes called, in an interview on Sounds True, our angelic blood.

What do I mean by this?  I am listening to Mirabai Starr’s Divine Mercy on Audible at the moment.  She is someone who had already experienced an inordinate amount of death by mid-adulthood, and then took up grief counseling and holding vigil with the dying and their families.  She writes that one of the most valuable practices for the dying, and their families, is to notice pain and fear weaving in and out of experience.  When pain and fear weave back in, you can say, Oh, hello, pain.  Hello, fear.  I know you.  I see you’re back again.  And just notice them.  Fear is like peanut butter.  There is only so much of it you can spread over the long toast of your life, however much of life you are blessed to have left.  There is a larger awareness that can hold the pain and the fear when they weave in and weave out again, as they will continue to do throughout any human life.   Mirabai has noticed that this practice has helped the dying and their families a great deal.  Perhaps someone out there has figured out a way to completely transcend these aspects of the human experience (pain and fear), but I have not.

It takes courage, and personal power, to feel afraid, and to admit it.  Courage and fear cannot be separated.  Fear is a necessary ingredient in courage.  Fear will be coming along for the ride.  We can thank fear for helping to promote our survival, helping us to avoid saber tooth tigers and oncoming double decker buses, and for allowing us to make wise choices that have enabled us to live to see this day.  However, I want you to take a look inward at the double decker bus of your internal community, now.  Yep, fear is in there.  Hi, fear!  Fear can be in there.  But fear does not get to drive the bus.

Before I have you all chanting, Yeah!  Punch fear in the face!, let’s look at what else fear does for us.  Fear shows us what we really, passionately, do NOT want.  Use it.  Use it to see what you passionately DO want (hint: it’s the opposite), and to promote that.  If you’re noticing some existential dread and fear of death coming up aplenty these days, take this to mean that a part of you passionately wants to live and affirm life.  Then take care of your life, affirm life, and use your life as long as you possibly can.  If you’re afraid of mass panic and the proverbial paper-thin veneer of civilization, then take that to mean that you passionately want peace and brotherly (or sisterly) love among people, and promote that.

We’re all racing to keep up with the sudden changes that are upon us, many are feeling deeply lonely, and many are grappling with the kind of huge feelings described above all on their own.  Reach out to someone today to take care of each other emotionally, and in every way.  If you are really having a very difficult time coping, that’s what therapy is for.  Click the link here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation with me to see if therapy is for you, if I’m the right fit, or if another therapist or type of therapy would be.  The task of looking for a therapist is daunting and I’m here to help.  Until next time . . be well and be kind.


Photo by Shahid Shaikh on Unsplash


How to Cope with Existential Dread and Despair


So, nothing too big, right?  I felt moved to add some kind of counterbalance to the posts of the last couple of weeks, and now (as we seem to be entering a new age of endemics and pandemics) it feels all the more appropriate.  I want to begin with two potential problems with ‘happiness formulas,’ along with corresponding apologias.

First, ‘happiness formulas’ can sometimes serve as ways of bulldozing ourselves.  In other words, we may have very valid, difficult feelings that deserve our attention and care, and if we have developed an aversion to them, maybe because the adults who were around us when we were children had an aversion to them, then ‘happiness formulas’ can be a perfect way to bulldoze, bury, deny, reject and disown uncomfortable feelings.  I do, however, love the practices mentioned in my last two blogs because I believe they help us make the very best use of our precious lives, and cultivate the wild joy and pleasure that can seem so native to life itself, for as much of the time as we possibly can.  Also I feel that one must have a pretty strong ‘practice’ (whether it is a spiritual practice, a self-help practice, or a comprehensive, community-oriented self-care or self-compassion practice, or even a pleasure practice), else life will be very difficult.  I suppose, in this way, I am what Swiss-born British writer Alain de Botton would call a ‘cheerful pessimist’.

The other potential problem with a purely happiness-oriented approach is that it can come across as short-sighted, emotionally immature, and/or shallow when the ‘truth’ is that consciousness and human life are deep mysteries, and each of us will face death, will watch people we love face death, and will be shattered or have our hearts completely smashed multiple times across the span of our lives, if we’re lucky enough to enjoy longevity.  It is entirely normal, across the span of a human life, to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under us, rather violently, not just once but a number of different times.  Each time may bring with it a shattered sense of who we are, a pulverized sense of the purpose and meaning of our life (and of life in general), and sometimes also an utter demolition of our most important emotional and relational pillars.  And each time someone is in this kind of ‘broken open’ place, the most helpful sort of presence is one grounded in the more melancholic and deeply mysterious aspects of human life (not a Pollyanna approach or a spiritual bypassing approach).

The corresponding apologia that I would like to include for the potential shallowness/soullessness aspect of a happiness-oriented approach will take the form of an actual Alain de Botton video, called, How to Live in a More Light-Hearted Way.  Be forewarned, it contains some pretty naked (and literal) gallows humor:

In addition to this, some of the world’s great spiritual and mystical traditions are designed to carry devastated souls through the wasteland of shattered meaning, shattered hopes and dreams, wild grief and trauma.  (Please don’t read that as a recommendation of spiritual practice as an alternative to seeking professional assistance with sorting through clinically significant struggles like actual trauma.)  There are veritable treasure troves of spiritual beauty and wisdom designed to speak directly to the heart that has broken open, turning this emotionally tortured no man’s land into a very particular kind of sacred space.  Some mystical traditions would even say that the moments of most profound heartbreak have the potential to become turning points when the heartbroken individual turns towards ‘The Beloved’ (the internal connection to all love, to cosmic love, to divine love, to whatever you want to call it) as the primary target of all longing.

In many ways, the title of this blog is a misnomer.  Existential dread and existential despair are difficult to cope with in any ordinary sense.  They are deeper than regular emotions– rather, they are more like states of being which may always be there in the background, and which are sometimes entered more thoroughly than at other times.  Some schools of Western Philosophy deal with this rather squarely, but do not seem to really offer any answers or solutions.  Tibetan Buddhism is geared almost entirely (per my quite possibly inaccurate understanding) towards death preparation.  If we at least attempt to contemplate our existential predicament with something approaching a daily rhythm or practice, we will be less caught off guard when real existential dilemmas show up on our doorsteps (read: perhaps an unpleasant diagnosis for you or a loved one.  You get the idea.).

Perhaps I spoke to soon.  Western Philosophy does offer some solace, especially where the constructs of time and eternity are concerned.  Take this quote, for example:

“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

It is a mistake to think of death as “infinite darkness forever and ever”.  Our concept of “forever and ever” is based on the typical human subjective experience of the passage of linear time in three dimensions, upon which we base the concept of objective time per se.  But as long as we live, we cannot escape our subjectivity.  Objective time as such may be nothing like the experience of linear time that we have as human beings.  Also, no one knows what happens to consciousness when we die.  We are all pressed inexorably up against the unknown.  Increase your comfort level with the unknown, in large and small ways.

Connect with others over our shared mysteries and sorrows.  Not only do the grim existential facts of life unite us all and offer the most compelling reasons to feel compassion towards others, but they also serve as some of the most compelling reasons to be here now with your loved ones.  Say the words you most long to say.  It’s amazing how normal it is to never imagine that the people most dear to us actually have no idea how we truly feel . . . because we never told them.  Tell them.  It might feel vulnerable.  It might feel odd.  But it is one way to cope with some of the scariest and most unbelievable facts of our existence, together.

Turn terror into holy terror.  What do I mean by this?  Sometimes the facts of our existence can feel truly terrifying in a bottomless and black way.  The awareness of this comes and goes at different phases of life and for different reasons.  Much of this terror has to do with our inability to ever truly know, or have answers to, some of the most urgent existential questions our species has never taken a rest from asking.  (You know, questions like, Who am I?  What is life?  What does this all mean?  Where did we come from?  Where are we going when we die?  Etc., etc. . .)  Yes, yes, we are all pressed up against the roaring precipice of the abyss.  But if we could encapsulate all this unknowing, all that is beyond that roaring precipice in one word, what would it be?  ‘Mystery,’ maybe?  Could we turn towards Mystery itself as something sacred, something holy, something great?  I think maybe we can.

Aside from daily contemplative practices, sacred relationship to Great Mystery, sacred relationship to being broken open, increasing your comfort level with the unknown and being here now with loved ones, I lastly want to emphasize the important way that the most difficult facts of the human predicament can be potent fuel for compassion.  Feeling into that is another way to cope.  Not only feeling into it, but living it, practicing it in the world.  Then, come what may, you can look at the way you lived (mostly) with a very full heart.

Need some support putting this kind of stuff into practice?  That’s what therapy is for.  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call if you have questions about what might be right for you.

Happiness Formula Spillover

After writing last week’s blog post, inspiration after inspiration came to me of additional tricks, spells, formulas, and practices for enhancing one’s internal feeling state and overall life satisfaction.  (Honestly, I don’t actually love the word ‘hack’!)  I feel moved to add that we are not all starting from the same place, and that this kind of offering may not be the ideal medicine for every person at every moment.  When we are in the depths of despair, for example, all we need is another presence, another solitude guarding our own.  And for a caring other to present ‘happiness formulas’ at such a time in one’s life would probably feel dismissive at best, downright abhorrent at worst.  Happiness formulas are great medicine for people who feel they are doing “all around okay, except for ________”.  I still find it so important to write about and encapsulate some of this stuff as ‘air conditioning for the mind,’ if you will.  You can do whatever you want to try to control your external environment, but if you haven’t started on the inside, you might still find yourself miserable.  It seems smart to work on creating a golden meditation room inside first, yes?

So on to the trucos!

#11: Gratitude

Yeah, I said it.  Try keeping a gratitude journal.  Believe it or not, a gratitude practice can utterly transform your experience of life.  Really dig deep and expand your concept of what you have to be grateful for.  Be grateful that you can feel.  If you have access to running water, be grateful for that.  Say, and feel the essence of the words, “Thank you,” every time you turn on the tap.  Be grateful for the people whose work contributed to items you rely on or use daily, and grateful for the life’s work of everyone who has ever inspired you or added to your education, in whatever form it takes.  Sometimes I visualize gratitude as a sparkling light with which I infuse my food, a sparkling light that fills rooms into which friends, clients or loved ones are about to walk.  All of us will have some pain at some point, maybe a lot, maybe for a long time.  If you don’t have much now, it’s a great thing, that!  You could practice writing five things to feel grateful for each morning.  There is actual science behind this, folks.  I’m just too lazy to cite it right now.

#12: The Final Year . . .

Here I go with my morbid shite again.  I’m sure you’re sick of hearing YOLO.  Sometimes, this kind of live-today-because-you-may-die-tomorrow has a slight edge of shallow-feel to it.  I mean, nothing could be more true.  You could die tomorrow.  But I find that the practice that really drives this home and creates lasting change is ‘The Final Year’ practice.

Look at the calendar.  What is today’s date?  I am very sorry to tell you, but in one year from today, you will be dead.  I’m going to give you a moment to process that . . .



Well, no moment could really suffice.  (This is why Tibetan Buddhism focuses so heavily on spending your entire life preparing for death.)  Knowing that this is your final year, what will you do?  What will you cut out, what will you add, and what will you do differently?  What experiences will you allow yourself?  What will you say, and to whom?  What do you need to create?  Commit to living the next 365 days in this way.  And, if you’re lucky enough to still be alive at the end of those 365 days, start all over again.

#13: Some Dr. Joe Dispenza Wisdom

I am not Dr. Joe Dispenza, so I can’t say this as well as he could, but practicing fun-feeling, good-feeling thoughts regularly can actually alter the structure of your brain.  And then those kinds of thoughts spontaneously arise in you more readily, more regularly.  You can create a brain that spins off mostly adaptive, supportive, alright-feeling (at least), and self-compassionate thoughts.

Have you heard the expression, The neurons that fire together wire together?  Well, now you have.  During each new experience, our brain is making new neural connections, and studies continue to suggest that our brains actually continue to create new neurons into our old age.  So, just visualize those little brain cell dendrite-arms, reaching out and branching out like little trees and touching the dendrite-arms of more and more of their neighbors, allowing more and more information to pass through along trusty neuronal lines, paved through regular thought habits, and/or forged and strengthened through a disciplined learning practice.  Unfortunately, the potential for this brain magic to work against us is equal to its potential to work in our favor.

The brain of a depressed individual would show strong, deep, thick connections related to thoughts and beliefs that don’t feel so good.  This is not to say that it is wrong to sometimes feel sad or depressed.  The great humanitarian and writer Marianne Williamson once quipped, in an interview, that if you’re not feeling depressed, then you’re not really looking at the current state of the world.  My point here is that a consistent practice, or habit, of bad-feeling thoughts, actually creates and strengthens neuronal connections and networks related to those bad-feeling thought and belief patterns.  So this kind of habit is literally building a brain, at an actual, structural level, that is likely to continue spinning off bad-feeling thoughts.  It turns into a self-perpetuating feedback loop.

Good news!  It works in just the same way with good-feeling thoughts.  This brings me to #14:

#14: Affirmations

Write them on your hand, post them on your bathroom mirror, tattoo them across your belly, make them into your damn password.  They can be as simple as, “I am enough,” or as elaborate as, “I am fucking phenomenal at what I do, I am happy, healthy, harmonious, loving, whole, abundant and free.”  Whatever you want.  Have fun with it.  If you’re having a bad moment, check in with yourself.  What kind of thoughts do you have going on?  Flip those into their reverse and you have your own perfect affirmative medicine.  Example: Someone took a dump on my weekend, I’m feeling overwhelmed, and the thought is, No one will ever respect me.  Okay, flip that around.  Something like, I respect myself, I am worthy of respect, and people sense that in my presence.  The psychedelic thing about reality is that no one really knows what’s true.  Not reallyI am an asshole is just as “true” as I am a great soul.  If you’re really in a bad spot, start with something neutral, like, I am okay.  Something flaming like, I am a golden goddess might feel a little too far away and like an insult to your intelligence.

#15: Focus Wheels

Alright, yes, I did steal this from Esther Hicks.  What kinds of things fill you with the warm and fuzzies when you see them or think about them?  What do you want to go towards with your ineluctable, glorious, life-giving desire?  What would you be thrilled to create?  Put it on your focus wheel.  Or vision board. You can do whatever youuuuu liiiiikkkkeee.  Then, look at that sucker.  Look at it in the morning, look at it in the noontime, look at it when the sun goes down.  Waiting in line for the water closet?  Hmmm, what shall I think about?  I know!!  My FOCUS wheel!

#16: “Guilty” Pleasures

What kind of music did you reeeee-he-he-heaaally want to listen to in high school, but you knew your cool friends would drop you like a hot potato?  Listen to that.  Who honestly cares?  Play it loud.  If this creates a problem with your neighbors, you can cross that bridge when you get to it.  (P.S. . .  This does not only apply to music.  This is radical permission.  What is “cool” anyway?  Kurt Cobain once said, I’d rather be dead than cool.  There’s a paradoxical truth hidden in this.  Those who want to be cool look at those who are as if they possess this elusive, and ever-coveted quality, and some care a lot about getting some of that for themselves.  The secret is to stop caring.  Then you’ll really be cool.  Get your ego out of your own way, and great forces will come to join you.)

#17: Meditation

Again, people, there is science behind this.  Studies strongly suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with 10 minutes of meditation per day, or mindfulness-based CBT is just as effective as anti-depressants in treating and preventing a relapse of depression.  I actually looked that one up for y’all.

#18: Rage Channels

You heard me.  Channel your damn rage.  Break some plates from Good Will.  Drive somewhere and scream.  You deserve it.  Better yet, channel it into creative work and/or activism.  Lots of people, especially women, repress their rage.  It hurts you on the inside.  Channel it.

#19: Find Your Spirituality

There’s a funk-ton that I could write here.  Suffice it to say that most people already kind of know what their spirituality is, but it lives in a very deep, somatic, un-articulated, secret place.  How would you articulate it to yourself, in secret?  It could just be, I don’t fucking know.  It’s all a mystery.  Holy Mystery.  Great Mystery.  That’s it.  Great.  If you have zero spirituality, that’s cool too.  You can skip this truco.

#20: The Hard is What Makes it Great

Don’t get mad at yourself or think that you’re messing up because things got hard, or because they feel hard right now.  Don’t think you messed up in general if the journey feels hard.  Just watch this:


During a particularly difficult phase of my life, while I was living alone in a rough neighborhood and working my behind off, feeling burnt out and exhausted, and my whole body hurt every time my alarm went off before sunrise, I purposefully moved my alarm into the bathroom so that I would be forced to get up in order to turn it off.  And I posted a sign right above my iPhone charging station so that it would be the very first thing I would see every single morning during that difficult time in my life.  At the moment when I would turn my alarm off and my whole body would be screaming to get back into bed, I would bend over the sink and then look up at that sign, which read: The hard is what makes it great. 

Folks, I have so much ‘Happiness Formula Spillover’ that this blog series literally just became a book.  Look out for more.  And click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation if you’re interested in finding help putting any of this stuff into practice.  I know lots of great therapists in the Bay Area as well and I always refer out for best match when necessary.  Be well 🙂

My Happiness Formula


‘Happiness’ is a tricky word.  This famous Nathaniel Hawthorne quote sums up the attitude of many to that ever-elusive monarch butterfly, happiness:

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

This makes happiness seem like a special grace, or a fairy, who descends or alights on your shoulder capriciously, and exactly at the moment you stop trying.  In some ways, I agree with this.  But I believe there is also more to it.  Let me explain.

Happiness Hack #1:  Get Your Eudaimonia in Order

I often use the Greek word Eudaimonia with clients, instead of “happiness”.  It is a word commonly associated with human happiness or welfare, although flourishing, prosperity, and even blessedness have been suggested as more accurate translations.  It is a broader and deeper concept, one that arcs over an entire life, rather than an elusive state that occurs once in a while, largely beyond our control.  A Eudaimonic life is a life of overall flourishing, overall deep satisfaction (earned through a life of meaning and purpose), and overall movement towards self-actualization.  Eudaimonia allows for shitty days.  You can have a shitty day, even a shitty year, and still feel yourself to be gripped, overall, by the broader and deeper grace of Eudaimonia.  A Eudaimonic thought would be something like, This has been a no good, terrible, awful day that can go and fart into a shoebox.  But overall, I know I am constructing a narrative of continual growth and overcoming along my journey, I know I am on my path, and I am proud of the person I am, and the person I will continue to be.  In other words, you’re pretty confident that if you’re blessed to live a long life, you will look back on your life with a smile, and with gladness in your heart, if only because the way you lived was really and truly in alignment with your own authentic values (not anyone else’s).  This is Happiness Hack #1 because if your Eudaimonia is not in order, none of the other hacks will be as powerful.  And this brings us to . . .

Happiness Hack #2: Figure Out What Your Values Are

Not all people value the same things.  One person might really value free expression, while another person really values service, another one really values laughter, and another one really values humility.  Figure out what YOU truly value.  Not someone else.  You.  Be honest with yourself.  Figure out your top 5 authentic values, and find a way to ensure that your overarching life vision is very much in alignment with those values, especially your #1.  If you are in a station in life currently that feels far removed from your overarching life vision, you can still find ways to make your current daily job or tasks align more with your authentic values.  If you value laughter, crack jokes with your coworkers more.  If you value family but live far away from family, make a weekly tradition of Sunday night phone calls, or whatever works.  It sounds so simple. but I promise you that if you really figure out what those values are and integrate them not only into your current daily/weekly life, but also into your overall life vision, that sparkling happiness butterfly will begin to alight on your shoulder more frequently.  And you may also achieve some Eudaimonia on the side.

Here are some examples of values: Laughter, family, service, compassion, humility, art, achievement, connection, solitude, free expression, conscientiousness, learning, excellence, connection to nature, spirituality, gratitude, soulfulness, kindness, novelty, change, stability, commitment, security, freedom, learning.  The list goes on and on.  I’m sure you get the gist.  My top five (okay, six) are kindness, compassion, laughter, art, soulfulness, and learning.

Happiness Hack #3: Practice Self-Love

Love.  Once again, a word laden with many potential meanings and understandings.  In this context, I am thinking of “love” as a verb, like the loving that a wonderful parent does on behalf of their child.  So, yes, self-compassion is wrapped into this.  When I write or say “self-love,” I am referring to a fundamental attitude held by the individual toward the self.  Self-talk and behavior both spiral out of this fundamental attitude toward the self, this fundamental relationship.  So how do you get some of that for yourself?  There is a very simple practice that can help you to ground self-love into your body and daily life.  For one year (starting today, if you’d like!), commit to asking yourself, What would someone who loved herself do?  when it comes to every single decision throughout each day, large or seemingly insignificant and small.

What this does is it tends to get people onto a slightly better feeling path, then slightly better feeling, then even better feeling.  After a few weeks, you will suddenly feel confident that you are in good company with yourself!  And you will already be feeling, overall, much better.  At a certain point, you won’t ever want to go back to your non-self-loving ways.  I love sharing this tool with clients and watching them glow more and more in the weeks that follow!

(Please understand that self-love is not in conflict with values like duty, kind consideration or responsibility to others.  A loving parent would nudge their child toward making decisions of which they could continue to feel proud in the long-run, right?)

Happiness Hack #4: Just a Perfect Day . . .

Even if you’re not where you’d like to be in your life, fill one journal page with every single detail of what a perfect day would look like within this particular chapter of your life.  Be as detailed as you can, all the way down to the kind of PJs you wake up in, the kind of alarm that goes off, what kind of morning beverage you prepare, what time, what mode of transportation you use, etc., etc. . . .  What do you definitely do?  What do you definitely not do?  What do you wear?  What kind of music do you listen to?  When?  How do you celebrate the completion of another day in the evening?  Be creative, be indulgent, be honest!

Then . . . put it into practice!!  Do a little experiment where you try to be true to every single detail on that journal page.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if anything gets in the way . . . There’s always tomorrow!

Happiness Hack #5: Breathe Life into that She-Devil, Desire

Yes, I said it.  Desire.  I want you to keep it alive.  Alright, screw it.  This is the Mama Gena section.  I must give credit to the Pleasure Queen where credit is due, because this is her practice, and I find it so powerful that I try to do it quarterly, at least.  (And that allows me to connect your desire practice to your pleasure practice.  Just sit tight.)  Again, it seems simple, but trust me.  (In case you’re wondering, Mama Gena is Regena Thomashauer, pleasure teacher and best-selling author.)

I want you to fill three full journal pages (front, back, front) with a radical, daring, rebellious essay about what your life would look like if you abandoned yourself to every single last one of your desires!  They can be obscenely huge desires, or tiny desires (like a nail polish color you think you might want to try), or anything in between.  Don’t worry!  No one will read this (unless . . . you desire for them to)!  So it doesn’t matter if some desire seems “weird,” or out of alignment with the character you present to the world.  And I am going to get a little bit in your face here and tell you that if your desires are out of alignment with the character you present to the world, then that character is not very authentic.  It’s okay.  We’re all on the journey towards authenticity, and you came by your authenticity-smashing messages innocently in early life, as we all do.

Often, people write rapidly for the first page and 1/2 and then they sort of reach an impasse.  It’s okay.  There’s a reason for the three pages rule.  It forces you to really dig deep.  And whatever little pleasures from this writing practice can be integrated into your ‘perfect day’ . . . do it!  According to Mama Gena, people (especially women) are not taught to honor their pleasure.  Add one pleasure to each and every day!  Think of it as a vital nutrient!  Mama Gena once got out of a crappy, mean-spirited meeting in the office, and then took a “pleasure break” to go try on diamond necklaces at Macy’s with her sister-in-law (I think?).  You can be extravagant and absurdist with this!  Sometimes, honestly, it’s even a way to channel rage.  You f*cking deserve it!  Argh!

There is so much more I could write on this topic.  Suffice it to say that even Slavoj Zizek (the James Dean of modern thought) has stated that the death of all desire is the ultimate melancholic position.  More on this in section 7.

Happiness Hack #6: You Might as Well Feel Good Today, If You Can

British writer and lecturer, Alan Watts (most well-known for interpreting Eastern philosophy for Western audiences), gave a famous lecture in the 1960s (I’m fairly certain– he passed away in 1973).  In it, he stated that the whole American game, or the whole Western game, is about climbing ladders, always striving to attain to the next station, the next rung.  First it’s graduating high school and getting into a good college, then graduating from college and on to graduate school, then getting into a profession, then climbing the ranks of your profession or within your place of employment, perhaps while starting a family.  On and on it goes until retirement.  The whole game is geared towards arriving, but when do you really arrive?  If you have to wait until retirement to have a feeling of arrival, you may never have it.  Your entire life was spent on striving, reaching, pushing– never on just being fully present to the here and now.

This idea serves as a great counterbalance to desire.  Keep desire alive.  Stay excited about what’s coming and about what you are creating.  But arrive today.  Whatever feeling you think the attainment of your goal will give you, find ways to feel that today.  This is actually radical.  It feels like finding your way out of the game, if you will.  Remember, the only reason why anyone ever does anything is because they believe that the doing of it will make them feel a bit better.  All of your goals are hypothesized “how”s on the way to happiness.  Are you right?  Will you ever get there?  See how you can feel better today.

Happiness Hack #7: Embrace Pessimism

Modern Swiss-born British writer and thinker Alain de Botton has written that pessimism is actually the secret key to serenity.  Why?  Many of the hacks listed above could easily be placed within a “power of positive thinking framework.”  But there is a danger in leaning too far in that direction.  If we expect that all roads will somehow always be mysteriously freed from traffic for us, or we expect that it will certainly all go according to our sunny vision, we open the door wide for being let down and for being majorly pissed off.  To take things philosophically is to take unexpected (seeming) turns for the worse with an attitude of, This is the kind of thing that happens in life.  Hasn’t human life been fraught, in all eras of human history, with all manner of social ills, tragedies, moral bankruptcies, and deep compromises of all kinds?  I knew a day like this was coming.  Here it is. 

The wheel of fortune takes us up and it takes us down.  Pessimism is a way of making peace with this.  You can make your peace with ‘the way things are’ into a beautiful garden that you tend daily.  And part of the ‘way things are’ is that it’s impossible to ever really say what way things are!  So much is a matter of perspective.  How does this interact with desiring, etc.?

Happiness expert, Jonathan Haidt, wrote in The Happiness Hypothesis, that many Eastern and Western philosophies that emphasize the extirpation of desire may have made more sense as life philosophies within the time and place of their birth.  Life would have been terrible for most people.  Unexpected plagues, disasters and wars could come to claim your life or the life of everyone you love at any time.  Fortunes could change very quickly.  One can imagine how the extinction of desire might make life in such times much less turbulent.  I do not mean to trivialize the profound wisdom and spiritual beauty of these traditions.  I only mean to suggest that perhaps we now live in times within which we can find a balance in our relationship to desire.

Happiness Hack #8: USE Hard Moments to Your Advantage

Big upsets are indications of things that really matter to you.  You can begin to look at upsets, triggers, emotional flashbacks, or whatever you want to call them, as meditation bells.  They are opportunities to get to know your wounded inner child more deeply, and to get to know how you might meet the unmet needs of the inner child now.  And they are opportunities for you to define, with even more precision, what exactly it is that you want, what you want to think, and how you want to feel.  Check in about the upsetting situation, the feelings that went with it, and the thoughts that went with those feelings.  What did this cause you to know you would prefer?  To think?  To feel?  Focus on ways that you can create that.

Happiness Hack #9: Get Connected

Some people value solitude more than others.  But we are all members of a highly social species, and we are lonely now in ways we never have been before in our history.  Your isolated and highly mobile modern lifestyle may be taking a much larger toll on your happiness and overall life satisfaction than you realize.  As the late, great psychedelic bard, Terence McKenna said, Find the others.

Happiness Hack #10: You Don’t Have to Go There

Once again, everything is a matter of perspective.  From one perspective, the statement, Life is terrible, is absolutely true.  To quote the crucified man in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian,

Life’s a piece o’ shit, when you look at it!  It’s a funny line, because a part of you perks up and goes, Hmm, yeah, actually, that IS true, when you hear this.  And in a way, it is true.  But it is also true that life is an absolute adventure, a sacred mystery, an exciting ride liberally sprinkled with magic, and that the essence of life is joy.  You can focus on either one of these poles and it seems to open up before you with its own gravitational pull.  If you want to go there with life’s a piece o’ shit, you can absolutely go there, you will see the truth of this perspective, and it will seem truer and truer, and it opens up like a dark hole that goes on forever.  And every part of that hole is “true”.  You can go there.  But you don’t have to go there.  Because every part of the other paradoxical side of that truth is true, too.

Someone very beloved to me once quipped that she would like to have her headstone play on the famous phrase, Into each life some rain must fall.  Note: it’s famous because it’s true.  She is an artist, through and through, and she declared that the lines on her headstone ought to read, Into each life some glitter must fall.


Need more one-on-one support putting this kind of stuff into practice?  That’s what therapy is for.  It’s good to shop around and I’m here to help!  Click the link here to schedule a free, 20-minute phone consultation if you’d like to know more.

Allowing Oneself to Write Badly

American poet, novelist and short story writer, Charles Bukowski (and Elvis Presley of American wild masculine, nakedly gritty, down-and-out, beer-drunk and still shining with true heart literature), dedicated his final completed work, Pulp, to bad writing.

Inspired by this, I wrote, Dedicated to Bad Writing . . . For Bad People on the outside of one of my old journal shelves.  It seemed like wild permission to write, come what may.  Wild permission to write, regardless of the outcome, regardless even of the quality of the work.  I cared about the quality of the work, of course.  But if I cared to the point of paralysis, I would never get any writing done at all.

It seems like this speaks to the two poles of the creative life.  There is the pole of wild play, flow and experimentation.  And there is the pole of deep, crypto-religious devotion, discipline, and the willingness to bleed, sweat and cry, over and over and over again, in order to take one’s craft to the next level of sophistication.  Think: write from the wild, superabundant oceans of inspiration and free association.  And then edit with the sickle of Lady Death.  The two poles at play.

If we are missing the first pole, we can become totally stuck.  A lot of times it’s a harsh superego (Did you know that harsh superegos are linked to depression?), a masochistic personality structure, self-loathing, or over-investment in the results-driven, manufacturing mentality of the culture.  We become all about product and we lose the joy, magic, mystery and presence of process.

No matter where you are in your development as a writer, artist, or creative of any kind, you are likely going to spend some time not being quite as good as you’d like to be.  Sometimes you have to be willing to be bad at something for a while until you get good at it.  On the other hand, you may be a rather sophisticated creator, and you still have off days.  In that case, if you’re not willing to have off days, at a certain point, you’re not willing to show up.  You will have off days.  And the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of an off day are time-bound and myopically limited constructs of the mind.  “Bad” days loosen you.  They make you less afraid.  In order to be an artist, you have to be unafraid to look like a total ass.  Or you have to at least find ways to chum it up with the fear of looking like a total ass.  The relationship with fear must be reworked.

The creator of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad, describes what he calls the creative gap as a period of devotion to a singular creative task, project or career, during which you are wading through it and very probably working your ass off (but it doesn’t feel like work to you, does it? *winks*), but you have not received any accolades, or any kind of positive response to the work or reception of the work at all.

In short, no one gets it.  But YOU get it!  You know your taste is killer, and you know you’re onto something, so you keep going.  You may catch glimmers of your more fully developed creative self and style during this phase, and you may also do what you would consider to be a lot of “bad writing,” “bad art,” or “bad whatever,” during this phase.  But if it hadn’t been for all that “bad whatever,” you would not get to the next phase of your actualization as a creative person, or the next phase of your career.  You would not have taken full responsibility for your talents and gifts in this rare and precious life.  And sometimes this takes a while.  For Jad, it took ten years.  Ten years of trudging through the no man’s land (or no woman’s land) of dim, slushy, crumby, scary creative gap.  But your best work will stand on all the foundational stones of crappy writing, creative gap-y writing.  And if you had not been willing to write badly, paint badly, play badly or sing badly for much of your gap phase, you may never actualize what you are here to actualize.

And if that doesn’t push your buttons enough, or push you over the cliff into your own creative life, maybe this will:

“The most regretful people on earth,” the poet Mary Oliver wrote in contemplating the artist’s task and the central commitment of the creative life, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”


Click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call if this resonates, or if you’re battling it through some gap phase of the creatrix life 😉