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Elana's Space

listen within

August 8, 2015
by Elana
1 Comment

The Privilege of Seeing Pain

“I started sharing my pain with everyone,” is what one of my teenage clients said to me recently. What an interesting way to say this. Her words hung in the air.

They are simple and poetic. Significant.

Her words gave me a new context for what it means to “act out.”

When the pain inside became too much for her to bear, she started sharing it with others as a way of saying, “I’m here, and I need someone to care. I can’t handle this on my own.” She had a rough childhood, and she started doing all of the harmful things one can imagine a teenage girl doing to herself, including stealing and harming others.

Adults do this as well – share their pain. The person who abuses their spouse, the dad who can’t stop yelling at his children, the woman who drinks excessively and physically abuses.

We all have these moments of sharing our pain, everyone one of us. Our prisons are filled with people who were sharing a pain too great to hold in.

Is there anyone you can think of in your life that has been sharing their pain with you? Is there anyone in your life that you’ve been unconsciously sharing your pain with? Ask yourself if there’s anything that you can do or want to do about this to help. There may not be . . . and there may be.

I’m reminded of this tale that I read a long time ago. I don’t know if it’s true, but I like the essence of it. The piece that sticks out to me: “If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.”

This teenager in front of me had forgotten who she was. That she had a well of good inside. After years of being given someone else’s misbeliefs and someone else’s pain, her real identity was buried.

What if we took the time to listen, care for, and show kindness to the people in front of us who share their pain instead of shame them, punish them, or incarcerate them? Might we be able to remind them of their goodness and their deep capacity for love?

Not easy, but worth a try.

June 14, 2015
by Elana
5 Comments

Forgiveness One

When my father says to me: Don’t have as many children as I did, Elana. It’s too much.
I hear: Children are hard to raise and need a lot of attention, and having five of them has been difficult. I love my children, and I want you to have an easier time than I did. I want the best for you.

When my father says to me: Why don’t you become a real doctor? Or a lawyer?
I hear: I wanted to be a doctor and we couldn’t afford it. I think being a doctor is one of the best professions anyone can have. You are so smart, I know you would be a good one.

When my father says to me: Why do you volunteer? Stop wasting your time on things you don’t get paid for.
I hear: You are valuable and your time is valuable. You have a lot to contribute to the world, and you deserve to be paid for your work. I’ve never had the experience of service, and I don’t understand it.

When my father says to me: Elana, if you ever need a lawyer, find the most crooked one you can. He will do whatever it takes to win.
I hear: I’ve been taken advantage of by many people, and I’ve lost a lot of money. I don’t want others to take advantage of you.

When my father says to me: Why don’t you marry someone from your own culture?
I hear: My marriage was not easy, and I think it was because we were from different countries. You deserve to be happy in your marriage, and this is how I think you can.

When my father says to me: Forget about your passion, and make as much money as you can so you can be happy. Making money is most important.
I hear: I grew up very poor, and my life was very hard in a very poor country. I don’t want that for you. You live in a rich country with a lot of opportunity and money means an easier life, which I want you to have.

When my father says to me all of the things that I used to judge and become angry about in my youth, I can now hear what he was really saying:

Elana, I love you.

December 27, 2014
by Elana
4 Comments

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

As a therapist, I’ve heard the phrase “Therapy doesn’t work” (or some version of this – it’s ineffective, takes too long) many times.

I wonder if some people go in to see a therapist thinking that the therapist can heal them in some instant, magical way. This was often the case in my work with foster and adopted children when parents and foster parents told me to “just fix” their child.

But healing doesn’t just happen to us. It happens because of us.

Each person needs to be an active participant in their own healing.

I strongly believe that the source of healing – anyone’s source of healing – doesn’t rest with the therapist. (The consciousness of the therapist is important, so please do find a competent one who continually does their own inner work.) But healing is a verb – own it. Healing requires conscious action, commitment, courage, and willingness.

You may be asking, “Then what’s a therapist for?”

A therapist shines a light on blindspots. A therapist is a guide and (hopefully) a loving and safe presence, which is needed when someone’s experiencing pain. A therapist can often symbolize the loving parent we may not have had but wanted.

A therapist holds the space for healing to take place and that healing comes from within the client.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, tell them. If it’s not a match, don’t give up on therapy – find a new therapist.

My dear friend and very talented TMJ and sleep specialist Dr. Dave Shirazi encourages his patients to take ownership of their own healing by having them sign a form which states the following:

“We understand you have come to us seeking help in resolution of the issues and problems you have been facing for considerable time now. We want to be clear on how the healing process works for everyone. At all times, and with no exceptions to this rule, you are always in control of your own healing and are even doing your own healing. All healthcare providers, at best, can only facilitate your well being, that is why there are no guarantees in medicine. It is 100% your responsibility to follow the directions, recommendations, referrals, care of appliances, office visits and treatment given by your healthcare provider(s), as well as to give feedback and inform us of any challenges and wins along the way. . . But we cannot heal for you. Please be clear on this point. To that end, and for this process to continue, we ask that you acknowledge your responsibility of your own health and well being. Responsibility is yours to have, and responsibility is your power of healing.

“I, (client name), understand that I am responsible for my own health and well being. I am fully aware that the doctors and staff and referred doctors at the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Conejo Valley are here to facilitate my wellness, but do not heal for me. My healing occurs by me and for me. . .”

This is brilliant. This kind of active healing requires being vulnerable and not just saying what one thinks they want their therapist to hear. It requires being honest with oneself and the therapist when things aren’t going right and giving that therapist feedback – and it requires doing the work.

 

October 23, 2014
by Elana
2 Comments

Sweet Moment: My In-Laws

When I share with friends that my husband’s parents are coming to visit and that said parents are going to be staying with us, I usually see a look on their face that resembles something like pity mixed with a little horror.

My in-laws (isn’t there another word for that?) just left this morning after spending 10 days in our home, and it was a really fun and lovely time. I’m aware of how lucky I am that I get along with my husband’s parents and that they like me too!

When they visit, my father-in-law fixes whatever needs fixing and my mother-in-law does things like this around the house:
IMG_4264

I’ll share an experience that’s really the essence of my relationship with those lovely people referred to as my in-laws. They live on the east coast, and we fly out to visit them every year and stay in their home. A couple of years ago, they pulled out all of their family-inherited china and dishes and heirlooms and arranged these pieces on their large dining room table. The spread was just beautiful.

Diana (my mother in-law) told me and Tracy (her daughter) that they were starting to downsize and clean out their home. She shared that we could pick out whatever pieces we wanted to keep. There was a Danish tea set from the 1800s, several delicate tea cups, beautiful plates, items they received from their parents, items received as gifts from their wedding…

I took a moment and just stood in front of this table taking it all in – taking in the significance of what was happening. Diana and her husband were including me in this amazing act of passing on their treasured family items. My perception of what was happening was that they saw me as part of their family – of course I married their son and am family but this was in a way that I hadn’t realized before. And I was able to participate in this sacred family moment.

This really meant a lot to me. My own family doesn’t have family items or heirlooms to pass along. I assume that my relatives in my parents’ home countries probably inherited anything that was meant to be passed down.

So being part of this experience with my husband’s family was deeply moving for me. There’s something powerful about receiving an item that has been passed down. And not because I received some beautiful antique pieces, but because I am loved that much.

September 15, 2014
by Elana
1 Comment

Honesty & Vulnerability

One of the issues I see frequently in therapy with my clients is an overwhelming fear of being vulnerable – with me and with others. This can make moving forward in therapy tricky.

I’ve struggled with being vulnerable as well. In the past, it’s felt unsafe.

We live in a culture where we are afraid of our fear and our feelings, and vulnerability is mistakenly associated with weakness. It can feel uncomfortable, because we are afraid of what others will think of us or afraid of being hurt.

One of the best ways to connect with those we love and the only way that true healing can happen is if we are brave enough to be honest with ourselves and vulnerable with others.

This requires not hiding behind anger (which can feel powerful) or not hiding behind a wall of perceived strength built by the ego.

Bren√© Brown says is best in Daring Greatly: vulnerability is life’s greatest dare.

 

August 10, 2014
by Elana
3 Comments

A Dose of Hope & Inspiration

I’ve seen the video below three times, and each time it brings tears to my eyes.

It’s one of the best examples of human creativity and the power of internet to bring together people from different countries and cultures in what I would call an expression of love. Breaking down boundaries across the globe and generations. Just so damn beautiful.

So here you go. A small dose of feel-good inspiration to get you off your butt and out doing something good in the world:

 

 

June 10, 2014
by Elana
12 Comments

Being Good Enough

Several years ago my daughter played the cello when she was in elementary school and it thrilled me to no end. The sound of the cello resonates deep in my body. It’s melancholy, and I hear it sing a sad song of yearning and longing for the beloved.

It is truly my favorite instrument – and she was damn good.

So when the kiddo switched to the clarinet, well . . . that was a sad day for me. And when I was required to complete a heartfelt project in the second year of my Master’s Program, I decided that it was time for me to give it shot and learn to play.

I was pretty nervous about this undertaking. I’d not played any instrument since I took piano lessons as a child and over the years had developed a misbelief that I was not creative enough to play anything.

And not only would I be learning to play the cello in a few short months, but there were rumors that I just might possibly perform in front of my 200-person class at the end of the year . . .

So off I went. I hired an amazing cello instructor named Emily at Baxter Northrup, rented a beautiful cello that I named Neda, and met with my Project Team mates (Alycia Schlesinger and Jenny Caruso) twice a month for mutual support.

I practiced in hiding at first because I was embarrassed about my playing but with my husband’s encouragement, I quickly learned to ignore the negative self-talk and moved from the bedroom to the living room for my evening routine.

During our Project Team meetings, I shared with Alycia and Jenny all of the fears and judgments that surfaced about myself while pushing my edge this way. They all boiled down to “I wasn’t good enough.”

The final criteria to fulfill my project was to perform in front of my Project Team – easy – they loved me and cheered me on the entire time. As we neared the end of the year though, I started to wonder what it might be like to actually perform in front of my large class.

When the time came, I signed up to perform for the class on the final day (with everyone else who opted to present their completed project). I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep well the night before. I asked myself, “Who are you and why in the world are you doing this??”

I somehow managed to make it to class, walk up on stage with my heart pounding, coherently say some kind of introduction to the class, and play.

And here’s the thing: I was pretty bad. I didn’t practice enough as I probably should have and I sat up there squeaking away. I knew when I decided to perform that my playing wasn’t going to sound that great and some of my notes were going to be off. But I wanted to challenge myself anyway. Could I get up there and let others see me unpolished and imperfect?

As I played the last note, I looked up and saw my fellow classmates erupt into a standing ovation. It went on for a long while as I bowed in gratitude. I remember looking over at my husband, Alycia, and Jenny and seeing all three of them crying. I could see on their faces how proud they were of me. It was a pretty special moment.

I left the stage thinking, “Wow! I just did that!” and I was high the rest of the day. This was a significant stretch for the introvert who prefers to be in the background. Students congratulated me all weekend and several thanked me. One person said, “I realized when I saw you up there that I didn’t have to be perfect and that was freeing.”

I’ve become a fan of being good enough, of ignoring the whispers of ego-perfection, of letting whoever I am in the moment be just fine.

March 31, 2014
by Elana
4 Comments

Go Change Lives, Mom

“Go change lives, mom.”

That’s what my kiddo said to me the other day as my husband and I left for Madera, CA, to spend three days in a women’s prison.

This was a service project with 80+ other volunteers for the Freedom to Choose Foundation led by Drs. David and Bonnie Paul. For three days we teach and practice communication skills with the women and these skills are life-changing for them. They share with us how much they learn and how they use the skills with their fellow inmates and their families. (You can learn more about this on the FTC website freedomtochosefoundation.org. And watch these videos!)

But I’ll tell you what the secret ingredient is for these experiential workshops. It’s not just communication skills the women are getting from us. They are also getting our open hearts and our care and our loving attention.

When I first volunteered for FTC several years ago, I was afraid of going into a prison, of being around people who had committed murder, of the correctional officers, the watch towers and metal fences everywhere. The no bargaining for hostages policy was sobering. My fear lasted for all of three minutes as the inmates greeted me with gratitude, smiles, and hugs. What really struck me was how much the women in prison were yearning for connection, for someone to care. And not just the women – we completed our first workshop in a men’s prison last year, which was amazingly successful, and I experienced the same thing: people wanting someone to care.

This recent workshop was my fifth time volunteering for FTC and as I share about this with other people, I’m often asked the question, “Why do you go and spend your time doing this?”

How do I put into words what it feels like watching someone who has felt worthless their whole life and has made decisions based on that finally start to see that there actually is good inside of them, of watching their heart open to loving and care for the first time in years? Or perhaps the first time ever? To watch someone realize that they can make different choices and that they are worthy of love and kindness and can give that back to others. To hear a lifer say that even though she’s in prison she can start to be a better person to herself and those around her. In the men’s prison, one man said to me, “I come from the projects and I always thought that’s where I belonged. I’m realizing that I have other choices and that this is my designed community of caring people.” There are no words for how deeply moved I am to be part of this.

Sometimes people ask me if the inmates deserve it – the bigger question they are asking is do people in prison deserve us to treat them with loving, respect, and kindness and deserve to have a free self-improvement workshop given to them. That question is short-sighted.¬† And my short answer is yes. They’re doing their time, and, as one inmate put it, prison is hell. Some are paying reparations for their convictions. I met one woman who had been in prison for more years than I’ve been alive. And if they want to learn a new way to be and learn how to be better people and better citizens of our society, let’s help them do that.

The bottom line is that if people feel loved, if they feel good about themselves they will make different choices with their lives. It’s likely that a lot of these women will be paroled sometime in the future. Doesn’t it just make sense to give them tools that they can actually use to make their lives better when they’re out?

I hear their stories of repeated physical and sexual abuse, forced prostitution, neglect, betrayal and I understand why they wound up in prison. I’m not making excuses for them, and I’m not advocating emptying the prison system. My message here is one of understanding and empathy. The Freedom to Choose Foundation is proving that people in prison can make positive lasting changes in their lives.

This has easily been one of the most profound experiences of my life. If you’d like to help with real and lasting rehabilitation, check out the Freedom to Choose Foundation and donate or spread the word.

March 16, 2014
by Elana
2 Comments

What’s On Your Not To Do List?

Some of us have To Do lists that we love and live by. I happen to be one of those people. There’s a lot that I want to accomplish during my day and a list supports me in keeping focused – usually. (I do allow myself some flexibility.)

But I recently considered what might be on my Not To Do List.

Here’s what I came up with for today:

Not To Do:
1. Judge myself for making mistakes.
2. Replay conversations in my head thinking I should’ve said something different.
3. Speak harshly to myself and others.
4. Believe negative thoughts about myself or others.
5. Let fear hold me back.

NOTE: This is NOT an opportunity to add more self-judgment and shame onto the day. This is an opportunity to identify what energy-draining patterns I can shift in my consciousness. I won’t add things onto this list that I can’t possibly live up to and then feel even worse about later. Get the idea?

I made a downloadable version that can be printed to keep handy. You can get it by clicking here: Not To Do List.

I wonder, what will you not do today?

 

February 26, 2014
by Elana
4 Comments

The JOY!

I was talking to one of my friends recently and she asked me how I was doing. I shared with her that I was feeling extraordinarily well and have been for weeks. I also shared that I was starting to feel guilty about telling people how great I was doing.

This is what’s been fun and sometimes challenging to share with people: Since the end of December, I’ve been feeling amazingly great – and I mean super-duper fantastic. I’m experiencing deep peace inside. More internal and external freedom, copious amounts of joy, contentment that I’ve not felt before, courage to dream and try new things.

(There are several reasons for what I’m feeling and they can basically be summed up by saying that I’ve started doing things I enjoy rather than things that I feel obligated to do.)

This feeling was further deepened when I was driving home from an appointment a few weeks ago and remembered a Byron Katie quote and had a powerful awareness that struck me in every cell in my body. The thought was, “I have everything I need. I have every single, little thing that I need – and I always have.

“When you realize that whatever you need is what you get, life becomes paradise.” -Byron Katie

Writing about it now, I’m not sure that I can truly convey the profoundness of this experience for me. Not only do I have everything I need financially, but emotionally and spiritually. And I always have.

Driving on the freeway that morning, I laughed for a long time in my car and experienced such a deep sense of gratitude.

And the only time I step out of that peace is when I think I don’t have enough or I need more than I have.

So when people ask me how I’m doing, I want to say that I’m feeling so freaking fantastic that sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs!

Not to say that I don’t have challenges – I do, because I’m human. I sometimes feel hurt and sad and angry. But I feel different when those challenges come up. I’m different, and I approach those situations differently.

And I’ve felt guilty saying that up until now. I’ve been feeling guilty sharing with people how amazing my life is – how amazing life is.

My silly irrational thoughts? They were:

  • Maybe the person I’m talking to will feel bad because they’re not feeling as good as I am.
  • Maybe the person I’m talking to is going through a hard time and doesn’t really want to hear some loony talking about inner peace.
  • Maybe someone will think I’m full of shit.

Ha! What BS!

So here I am sharing my JOY!

I won’t hide my light because of or for others because of some false sense of loyalty or protection. In fact, Joy is contagious, so spread it around!

In what subtle ways are you dimming your light? Be still and let this question sit for awhile. What comes forward?