When you find yourself upset by a situation or person, ask yourself if the thoughts, feelings, or actions from the situation or person is yours to carry.
With this, it could be helpful to visualize a bag (or an assortment of bags) during these times.
Observe the bag—it’s shape, it’s color, it’s size, it’s contents, it’s weight—and decide whether you wish to pick it up and hold it…or not.
This comes with the parallel awareness and realization that—like airport baggage/luggage—we can only carry/handle so much before being bogged down and overall the contents of the bags preventing us from getting to our gates and ultimately to our desired destination within the optimal experience (i.e., the destination that is aligned with our life values and goals).
A question to ask as you approach a new bag…is this mine to carry? Is this something I choose to carry?
Urge surfing can be used with any urges (e.g., urges to avoid, escape, or push away unwanted emotions, urges within procrastination, urges to isolate, urges to self-harm) you experience, including action urges of emotions that don’t serve us well.
Emotions also serve a purpose. Similar to when our stomachs rumble to signal hunger, emotions signal us of a greater need. With this, we can have the urge to run from the action urge of anxiety or grief /loss because of the discomfort of the experience. If we can learn to sit with the emotion, be curious, and identify what it is trying to communicate to us…we can, in turn, take positive action within it and ultimately respond mindfully (versus react) to its signal. When we are able to do this, the strength of the wave is diminished.
To Urge Surf, visualize urges rising and falling like waves. Rather than trying to fight against the wave and be tossed and turned upside down, practice the skill of noticing and observing then surfing the wave until it’s lost it’s power.
Each urge has 3 stages:
RISE WITH INTENSITY
The rise of intensity is when the urge is triggered or begins building up. This is when, if we are able to notice and name what is happening (pay attention non-judgmentally to the sensations that are occurring for us). We can be curious and open to this experience and choose in that moment to not fight against it. We can also deploy our learned coping /mindfulness strategies (breath work, grounding, engage our 6 sensations of sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing plus movement) so that the wave does not grow as big.
2) The peak is the point the urge is the strongest, like the white caps of the crest of the wave as it peaks. It is slightly before this that we must choose whether to surf and ride the wave or be taken down by it. If we choose to ride, we can continue to take deep mindful breaths as we ride our surfboard. This stage can last up to 20 minutes.
3) The crash starts when the urge begins to lessen, like a wave after it has peaked and starts falling back into the ocean and towards the reclaimed calm.
We can often become anxious in anticipation of the future or sad about the past. It can be helpful when we are able to live in the present.
If this sounds like you, the following activity may be useful. If you would like to try it out, write “future” on a piece of paper. Under “future” write “present” and under “present” write “past.”
When you feel caught up in thoughts or emotions, slide/move your finger up or down the page to determine where you are. Are you in the past, present, or future?
After a few times you can move the written out page to a visual in your mind. This can be a useful strategy as you move about your day in order to determine your current mindset. If you find you are in the future or past, you can then ask yourself what you may be able to do to move back to the present. This is an intentionally lived and mindful life, a life within the present.
A young woman went to her Grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling.
Her Grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans.
She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her Granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft and mushy. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hardened egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee.
The daughter smiled as she tasted its deep flavor and inhaled its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What’s the point, Grandma?”
Her Grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water – but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin, outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her Granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong? But with pain and adversity, do I wilt and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a fluid spirit but, after death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart? Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water – the very circumstance that brings the adversity, the pain, the hardship – into something quite wonderful. When the water gets hot, it releases it’s fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better, and change the situation around you for the better.
When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level? How do you handle adversity?
As we stand on the welcome mat of 2021 and prepare to enter its door, I find myself reminiscing. Who knew when my family arrived back in Cali in October 2019 that we were headed into a worldwide global pandemic that would cause massive societal shifts that have come to change the way we live.
2020 what a year! It is said, “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” —Tuli Kupferberg
As I reflect, this is where my thoughts drift this morning and where I am able to take some solace amongst the continued uncertainties of this virus. Uncertainty and change is no stranger to me. The trick is to remember the blessings amongst the chaos and not get so caught up in it all that we forget to live. The virus has already stolen so much from us but what has it given us? How has it forced us to evolve and embrace what is important in life?
Vernon Law says it well, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”
The surreal’ness of it all. Benjamin Disraeli said, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”
I have lived this life of change and unpredictability before. In response to quick turnaround military orders, I recall the night before my families big move to Italy at the end of 2018 wherein we packed up 4 kids and 3 dogs and moved across the ocean. The true challenge of this change, the absolute blessings from embracing and moving within it. It changed us in ways we could never have imagined—despite the difficulties of a massive move, uprooting our kids, adapting within an unknown culture— we persevered as we soaked up the history, the culture, the food experiences. While there were many blessings, there were also true challenges within this growth-producing experience. We gathered a true multitude of memories from our time abroad as we were given the opportunity to travel all over Europe. We drove the crazy no rules roads in Italy, dived into various cultures and languages, walked the streets of Rome, ventured to Pompeii, white water rafted in Austria, ate yummy pastries in Bologna and huge (size of your face) homemade pretzels in Germany, went to Shakespeare’s Globe in London, plus so much more. We took the fear of this move and travel alongside us and did not let it hold us back. Now that we are nestled back in Southern California, these experiences are ones we continue to treasure.
I find myself thinking, what if we had not embraced the challenge and converted it to opportunities? What if I had let fear hold me back?
After all, “The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea
When we remember the blessings amongst the chaos we get to live fully—even in the midst of a global pandemic.
When we build a campfire, does it burn eternally? Do we build it once and never tend to it again? No, of course not, similar to our devotion of creating a rich, full, and meaningful life, we have to tend to that campfire every single day to keep the flames burning. Life is similar, we have goals we are striving for, obstacles we face, and things we must put into action to keep our flames blazing. This may include stepping back and assessing the campfire several times a day to add new logs to the campfire and generate new sparks and/ or maintain the everlasting campfire (i.e., a rich, full, and meaningful life). Of course, within balance, once we have a strong campfire built, life is also about just being and enjoying the warmth of the campfire you have built, adoring the dance of the red, orange, and yellow flames, throwing a new log on occasionally to keep the spark alive, and remembering life is not a destination, it is a journey…sometimes a journey that takes many logs being added to our campfire. Live the intentional life, a life full of campfires.
Part of being human is the experience of emotion. Emotions serve to communicate to us when things are going well and not so well so that we may formulate a response. With this, the feeling of numbness may be something everyone experiences from time to time—from feeling overwhelmed by a life stressor to some form of trauma. Typically the feeling is temporary and allows us mental and emotional processes of shutting out feelings in order to move through something difficult. However, for some, this feeling of emotional numbness can linger for a duration—often serving as a protective defense that guards us from further emotional or physical pain. While this shield of numbness can serve us well in the short-term, such as to get through a life stressor; when it stays for a duration, it can have long-lasting consequences such as the inability to problem solve, experience pleasure and other positive emotions, engage in life, and be the whole person we can choose to be.
Numbness can show up differently for each person. The cause could be wide such as symptoms associated with PTSD, Grief/ Loss, Depression, Anxiety, Abuse/ Neglect, and/ or a whole array of past life experiences that have now come to haunt your present. When feelings of numbness linger or stay for the duration and exceed our ability to cope, it may be time to consult a mental health professional to support in unpacking and processing within the causation of the emotional numbness.
Treatment may include a Therapist (such as myself) who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Trauma Work, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), and other treatment approaches.
I am a Therapist who travels between California and Europe. In my time here on Earth, I have been blessed to live all across the United States; making a home in almost every corner (coast to coast) and some in between. One day, as a Marriage and Family Therapist, as I sat and counseled my clients, as I had so often did, to live their life to the fullest, to seize the day (carpe diem), and to have no regrets, I found myself intrigued by my words in a new way. That night, on my drive home, I wondered was I taking my own advice? Had I lost site of living within my guiding principles? Sure I had a great life but was I living my life fully or stuck in my comfort zone? So, when international travel came calling, I had to answer. I transferred my private practice to fully online and set out to live the life I wished so dearly for my clients (i.e., the discovery of living life to its fullest within each person’s desire). As someone who has suffered from then learned to live with anxiety and depression this was still a bold move…however, I hear life begins at the end of your comfort zone, a quote by Neale Donald Walsch and I was not going to let fear and the unknown hold me back—I would bring any uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and so forth alongside me on this journey as I am determined to live my life to the fullest no matter what. While we each have to choose our own guiding principles, for me, they are Travel Far- Eat Well- Live Long- Love Optimally. Within it, I have come to the realization and embracement of no roots as I have found that I do not necessarily have roots in one certain physical place but wings that allow me to fly. If anything, my roots are found in the people I have met along the way that store space in my heart (like so many clients I have come to know and offer support), the experiences I have met through food, history, and culture along my travels, the richness of the life I have lived, and the ability and choice to love optimally. While your ideal life may not match mine and send you jet setting across multiple oceans…I would love to walk alongside you and help you discover (or re-discover) what it means to live life fully. If you think online therapy may be the right fit for you, I welcome you to contact me and begin your own “journey.”
2020 Update: While I still have a love for traveling far and wide and continue to offer online Telemental Health Sessions, I now have re-established an in-person therapy practice within the state of California. To learn more click HERE