Spiritual Awakenings

by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCI have met with many individuals who struggle with the concept of “Spirituality” because it has become too infused and interwoven with the word “Religion.” For some LGBT individuals, religion has been a source of intense trauma and pain. To be able to process this pain, oftentimes, they remove themselves from religious communities, or are forced out by the dogma and those who seek to enforce it.

It is quite an internal conflict to try and conceptualize, “because of who I am naturally attracted to, I am a sinner.” To most LGBT individuals, this natural attraction started during the normal developmental ages of about six or seven, and then gets a bit buried until puberty. For heterosexual children, it is pretty easy to put it on the back burner because what they feel matches society in every single way, especially matching their given religion.

Now, I say this again, “It is quite an internal conflict” for a SIX- or SEVEN-year-old “to try and conceptualize: ‘because of who I am naturally attracted to, I am a sinner.’”  Next time you see a picture of yourself at six-years-old, have some compassion for yourself that on some level, you were given the extra (oftentimes hidden) conflict of having to internalize that. How? What did we have to do to internalize that? It does a number on a kid…that is for sure.

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Then the tricky argument by some religious heterosexuals is that they are choosing how they feel. How would they know? Are they choosing their heterosexual attraction? It is one of those profound human experiences that is universal…we all know what sexual attraction feels like, whatever gender.

Oftentimes the LGBT child grows up wanting to make parents, teachers, priests/pastors and peers happy and God as an extension, of course. At times they embrace the religion, and then oscillate to their natural attraction, then back and forth. It is not uncommon to see the pendulum swing back and forth between religious zealot and “backslidden” rebel. It is just the pattern of working out this conflict.

At a certain point, many LGBT individuals walk away or get shunned, not all, but many.  And often with that comes the denial of acknowledging the spiritual nature of their humanity. Spirituality does not equal religion. Although there are those who make religion a large part of their spirituality, and that is them. But the LGBT individual who has been religiously traumatized MUST recognize and respect their spiritual needs or else the void sets in.

Tall Green TreeTo those LGBT individuals out there who have been hurt by religion, I am not here to say that you MUST find an accepting church and go there for you to heal and start to nurture your spiritual life; however, I do encourage you to look broader. Ask yourself, “What do I think of MY spirituality?

What INSPIRES you?  A long walk in a park early on a Saturday morning in the late summer; Reading a book to your child; Having coffee with a friend; Something that connects you to anything bigger than yourself – these are our spiritual needs and they demand to be nurtured in life for us to tap into true happiness and fulfillment. Religious trauma healing can be had for LGBT individuals, don’t give up!

Be well,
David

Ps, here’s what the leader of the Catholic Church recently had to say on the subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-gays_n_3669635.html

The Word

Audrey Hepburn was once quoted as saying, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’.” And so our need for a language of creative and global understanding marches on. We are meaning seeking creatures. We need to know what happens when the lights go down and only shadows remain. Words help fill that void. They have the potential to create, cultivate and sustain our souls. Our resident contributor and wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, taps into the power of language and words in this week’s beautifully simple posting, “The Word.” Enjoy!

In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

The Word by Stephanie McCracken, MS 

Stephanie McCrackenThe written or spoken word, each of these is an abundantly powerful entity. Upon subtle examination we can begin to understand and then perhaps harness their infinite power. Find assurance that words, whether verbal or written, are the building blocks to our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves and ultimately how we relate to the rest of the known universe. There are countless overly used and somewhat trite aphorisms that guide one toward the powerful secret to which I write, “Think well, speak well, and be well.”

It sounds simple, but what does all of this wellness really mean? For those of you who have already discovered this transformational tool the lesson will be unnecessary, but it will seem the majority of people who I interact with have yet to take note of the vast difference between positive speech and negative speech.  This difference draws the distinction between effective and ineffective communication. In the expanse between speech and action we are given the opportunity to enjoy the magnetic and expansive power of attraction which will repel or manifest thoughts, feelings and blessings.

Read the following two passages very closely and unveil the differences inherent in the words…

1) I can’t show you the power of attraction, if you don’t already know its mechanisms then you are living without its effects.

Read closely and notice what you think and feel about the following statement compared with the previous one.

2) The power of attraction is an invisible force, if you are in the process of discovering its components you are on the road to enjoying its effects.

The WordDo you notice that these two sentences are fundamentally similar in their meaning? Yet, by using a few contrasting words the feelings associated with each of them are very different. We would likely find the first statement within a dialogue spoken with any number of words such as: “can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, don’t, never, less.” These words frame the way one perceives the world. They are the words that are used to color interaction with others, and they invariably become part of the way that others remember us and the way that we feel about and understand ourselves. “I can’t ever catch a break in life!” “I never have any luck with men/women.” “I have no money, I’m always broke.”  I know a few people who make it a regular habit to speak and think in these terms and interestingly enough, they are almost always right about their poor luck, lack of love, and nonexistent portfolios.

Now think for a moment upon the other end of the spectrum. Do you know any people that typically seem to be in great spirits? That person who is usually smiling and has seemingly good luck? The people who remain confident and calm even when dealing with challenges? Who are these people and how do they develop the skills necessary to enjoy the universe instead of becoming overwhelmed by it? I will share with you a skill that they utilize, perhaps even unconsciously. They think and interact with others in terms of abundance, strengths, and abilities, simple constructs that make all of the difference.

The WordImagine the person exemplified in the aforementioned paragraph. In communication they would think, “I am going to enjoy the better luck that is waiting for me around the next corner.” “I am ready to enjoy a positive, loving relationship with a man/woman.” “I am working on my money management skills and or finding new employment.”  What simple differences in which these individuals order their universe.  In the first example there is a sense of helplessness, a poignant hopelessness that says the universe is against me.  The latter example highlights someone who has learned the power of words. This is not semantics or simple reframing. This is buying into the words we use to ourselves and others. It is speaking in ways that are constructive and aligned with faith, trust, hope and growth. I ask you to try this small exercise the next time you are feeling overwhelmed and helpless in life. Reclaim your intentions by re-sculpting the terra nova of your inner sanctum and make a change toward the positive.

Even if you don’t necessarily believe everything that you are saying at first, it will be helpful to view yourself as someone developing unto your desires. If you were to choose, right now in this moment, which potentials would you like to expand upon? Choose what feels right for you.  Grow, move, release your dreams, hopes and purpose into the ether.

Love, expression and happiness,

Stephanie

Breathe

Being mindful of your breathing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to evoke a sense of calm, become centered, and re-energize. Our regular contributor and resident wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, shares her insights and techniques on breathing and its meditative powers and benefits. Enjoy!

In Good Health,

Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Breathe By Stephanie McCracken, MS

Stephanie McCrackenEveryone does it. So if you don’t mind my asking, when was the last time that you really did it?  When was the last time you allowed it to propel you to the heights of Nirvana only to have it gently slide you back down into limp flesh, relaxed? I bet many of you didn’t even know that it could be so good, like sweet cream on a warm summer’s evening.  After all, this very act sustains the life you are living.

I want to share with you the secrets of doing it really well.  I will warn you, it’s not as simple as it seems.  It takes training, discipline and wisdom if you really want to experience its full potential. Take some time for yourself. This time will give you the chance to develop tools that will offer an opportunity for clarity, strength, calm, and wisdom throughout all parts of your living and being.

Come. Take some time. Breathe with me.

There is a common misconception that we know all that we need to about the breathing process.  After all, isn’t it our first physical act once emerging from the warmth of the womb?  Yet, there are gurus, yogis, monks and other wellness facilitators who devote a lifetime of practice to this complex and exhilarating act. As with most everything, what you see is not what you necessarily get because there are many layers of power to be harnessed and experienced within the act of breathing.

BreatheLet us journey to our core. Begin by sitting in a chair in an upright position. Now close your eyes, allow them to gently block the outside world.  Find yourself in a warm, tranquil space that exists on the backside of your eyelids. You notice the beating of your heart as it pushes warm, oxygen rich blood to the rest of your body. Begin to connect with the rest of your physical self.  Notice the distinct calm feeling in your hands as they rest on the tops of your legs. Open your palms in a position of reception for the energy that is coming toward you. Accept this as a gift, a connection from the universe to you. Your feet should be planted flat on the ground. Notice how the floor feels beneath them. What does it feel like to be connected to something as grand as the earth?

Now that you are settled in a peaceful position, we are going to go even deeper inside.  Take a slow and steady inhalation through your nose. Feel the warmth of the air as it makes it ascent from the tip of your nose and fills the back of your throat. Feel your shoulders rise as the air continues to spill inside of your chest, filling you down to the bottom of your belly which has expanded to allow the air space inside.

BreatheThis breath feeds and nourishes your body as you hold the inhalation and very slowly, let it go, let it go, let it go.  The act of taking in should match the process of letting go, equal strength and time allotted to each of them.  Notice how your body softens as you exhale, feel your shoulders falling as the tightness disappears from your neck and your brow. Now let’s fill our lungs again, taking in the rich air which surrounds us.  All that is full of life and power brings the breath into us until we are full. Now hold the breath as your chest expands and your belly begins to soften on the release. These sacred breaths allow everything within you to fall naturally and evenly away, as you savor in the calm which washes over you on the exhale.

Take attention to your body. Feel the energy coursing through your hands and legs. Such supple feelings of softness as you float in the space behind your eyes. Whatever you are noticing, you are exactly where you should be. You are comforted and cradled in warmth. You are present and you are calm in this moment.

Spend time at least once a day to focus on your breathing and the physical sensations related to it. If you can dedicate 5 or 10 minutes of your hectic day to breathe in this manner, you will notice a greater calm and clarity in the rest of those moments where you are devoted to work and family and all of the other tasks related to living life. Always remember the importance of your breathing. Notice the ever evolving shape and speed of your inhalation and the physical sensations attached to this. Close your eyes and for a brief moment, escape, soothe, relish. There are so many ways to do it simply and elegantly.

Breathe—–ahhh.

Love, peace and happiness,

Stephanie

Tezmacal: A Spiritual Journey

Stephen Covey wrote, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” Our resident Blogger and world traveler, Stephanie McCracken, explores this notion with a sacred expedition to the soul of her being. In the spirit of the coming New Year and the meaning we give to refinement and new beginnings, I offer Stephanie’s latest musing, Tezmacal: A Spiritual Journey. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Tezmacal: A Spiritual Journey By Stephanie McCracken, MS

Stephanie McCrackenChant, sweat, purge, purify. Tezmacal is a Meso-American ritual that is used for a plethora of afflictions. The ritual is believed to offer aid to those who are physically ill and has even been utilized to assist women with the pains associated with childbirth. Muscular cramping, arthritis and even detoxifying the body to shorten the duration of the common cold are all addressed in rituals that address the trinity of mind, body and spirit.

Tezmacal is helpful to those experiencing spiritual quandaries by working to clear emotional turmoil and dispelling negative spirits. In many Meso American cultures a person suffering from bad luck or discontent is believed to be surrounded by bad spirits, haunted in a sense, and extensive cleansing ceremonies are used to rid these “bad energies.” No matter what the curative component to Tezmacal, something does indeed happen in the process of sweating. In most American spas and fitness centers one will find steam rooms and saunas incorporated as an important component to wellness. Allow us to also remember how restorative and detoxifying the branch of “hot yoga” is known to be. Generally speaking, heat therapy is known to aid in the burning of fat, rejuvenation of skin cells, and total detoxification in the body.

With all of these promised benefits, how could I resist the opportunity to try it? Conveniently located in a small Mexican seaside town about two hours outside of the hustle and bustle of Cancun, there exists an assortment of mystical sites for travelers seeking a transcendent experience. With the hope of an ethereal occurrence, I arrive to the Tezmacal lodge. The first person to meet me was the “Temazcalera,” as is the title given to the woman leading the ritual.

“Hola!” exclaimed Maria as she gently touched my shoulder to indicate that I should take a seat on the bench. I was warmed by her large, round eyes that wrinkled on the sides when she smiled, those little crinkles which suggest genuine kindness.

The compound situated in the dense Mexican jungle, about a ¼ of a mile off of the Caribbean Sea, is embraced by lush trees and tropical foliage. All of these plants yielding abundant oxygen and leading me to a sensation of ebullience as I inhale slowly and intentionally. In the immediate compound I see three large domes which comprise the Tezmacal. There is a fire pit encased in adobe, rocks glow and logs burn with insistent crackles producing steady streams of smoke abounding upwards. From what I had learned, I know the dome itself is representative of the feminine sacred space, the womb. The participant is to crawl upon their knees, in respect, when entering “the womb” as it is in here that one may receive the great mother’s rejuvenation and healing. The birth and death cycle continues infinitely, born and reborn again, when each infant human exits the womb we do so detoxified and brimming with sacred energy. This ritual is a metaphor for the birth and death process and an effort to cleanse and restore the life.

To my left there are several buckets filled with bundled herbs which hold concocted tea-colored water. These steaming buckets are situated around the fire pit.  In front of the door to the lodge, there is an altar with a large painting of the Virgin Mary and a row of candles to light her depiction. There are also several more bundles of herbs that Maria identified as “plantos medicos” for cleansing.  How odd to see an altar for the Virgin Mother in what had originated as a pagan or Pachamamma, native ritual. These rituals are the manifestations of the collective intention to celebrate the feminine goddesses and their powers. The principal goddess for the Tezmacal was Teteoinan, or The Great Mother. The Conquistadors had attempted to annihilate these traditions because they involved worship of Mother Earth, something so vastly foreign from the monotheistic and patriarchal Christian God that the Spanish were promoting. Most of the Goddess worshiping people had their deities replaced. Presently most of the Central and South American people who had worshiped a pagan goddess now pay their homage to the Virgin Mother.

The time to begin finally arrived and Maria motioned for me to stand atop of a fan palm, positioned at one of the four candles that were in the Four Cardinal Directions. I noticed there were three other Spanish speaking locals. A boy in his early 20’s, an elderly woman wrapped in a shawl with loose and wrinkled skin dangling from her jaw line, myself, and Maria. We each took a place around the palm. Maria blew into a conch shell bellowing the sound of a horn to signal that the ceremony would begin.

I was instructed to repeat the words that our Temazcalera was speaking while turning to face the south, I shout words which are strange and unfamiliar to me but somewhere deep in my unconscious they resonate. Then Temazcalera handed me the conch shell and I blew into it, invoking all of the strength and power of The South, The Pathway of the Dead.

After making a verbal contract with the “Powers of The Earth,” Maria knelt down in front of me clutching a bowl. She threw some golden powder from the bowl onto the heated pebbles; the powder began to spark. She gently fanned the smoke near my legs, my torso, and then shaped a serpentine around my upper body in order to sooth my spirit. With each of the participants she repeats the same practice until we have received the collected energy of The North, The East, The South, and The West.

It is time to enter the womb; one by one, we placed our feet into the tub of flower water at the base of the dome. A young boy gently poured water upon our legs as a final touch of purification before we enter the Great Mother in a clockwise fashion. This rotation is a rhythm that is vital as it represents The Evolution of Life, from birth to death.

I take a seat inside and cross my legs following Maria’s lead. The boy on the exterior of the dome shovels in stones that have been heated by the flames of the fire pit. With each stone, Maria chanted a welcome then passed a rock of resin around the group. She indicated that we should have a turn marking a cross upon the stones to bless their energy. The resin bubbles and cracks upon the hot surface of the rocks decanting a mild scent. I drew a cross atop, but the stones are so hot it was difficult to keep my hand near them for more than a moment.

The heat of the dome is immediately perceptible and the temperature quickly rose. The boy continued to fill the pit with stones until Maria signaled that there were enough for now. She closed the exit by draping a woven blanket across the circular hole. The heat was sealed in and now rose even more rapidly. The chanting begins and the ritual moves in cycles. Maria throws a gourd of the herb water atop the rocks. The water evaporates and changes to steam after sizzling and crackling; this is the metamorphoses of the elements. The earth baking in the center of our circle as it emanated its absorption of fire; water turned to air, the air heated our bodies causing the creation of sweat. The cycles were in perpetual motion.

I felt the sweat pouring from deep inside my core, my chakras begin to glow with energy and blessings, and the fire is purifying me. Maria asks that we take a moment to speak with our deceased ancestors. I smiled, remembering my grandmother, and I thanked her for this life and the power of her breath that still flows within my thoughts, I always remember her soothing words when I am troubled – she had a way to tell me that everything would be ok. I learned so much about generosity of spirit from my own Great Mother, the angel who used to tell me that I was her soul mate. I once again offered, “Thank you my dearest Grandmomma, thank you for all that you were and all that you are still in this moment, you will always remain in a place of honor inside of me.”

The sweat continued to pour as the fourth and final round of rocks were brought into the dome, the heat has consumed me. I lay upon the ground trying to find the coolness that had once risen from the earth. Maria noticed this and came to my side, fanning me with her palm and pouring some of the herbal water upon my head. We were each asked to take a moment to talk with our own spirits, the past and the present. I tell myself, “Be patient, trust in the Rhythms of the Universe and continue growing, you deserve this contentment which is an outgrowth of the rightness contained in the direction that you are walking.” I inhaled, filling my lungs, and then I assessed my thoughts, smiling to realize how at peace and grateful I am for everything exactly as it resided in that moment.

It had been several hours and it was time for the circle to close. We each repeated a chant after Maria, giving thanks to The North, The East, The South, and The West, and for each of The Elements, always remembering that above all else give we must honor and give thanks to The Great Mother Earth. The last of the water was doused upon the rocks and the whirling steam filled the womb with sweet air.

We were instructed to be still and allow the heat to leave us in the restful process of cooling down. A ceremonial cup of water was passed around and we were each given a portion to drink. The water was so refreshing and became yet another source of gratitude. In its own time, I noticed the heat leaving my body, the thought of time is a challenging concept, but I suspected an hour or so passed until the balmy Caribbean air gave me a chill. So much contrast from the heat, from warm to cool, from wet to dry, from liquid to air, breathing inward and outward, far and near, life to death, she continued infinitely cosmic rhythms of life. I felt whole, complete and one with the soul of the world.

Love, warmth and happiness,
Stephanie

The Sounds of Silence: The Art of Stillness

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Culturally, spiritually and psychologically we live in a paradox. We retreat from our call-to-being by crafting stylish diversions; neatly manufactured conduits to conveniently bypass the chaotic backwoods of our lives rather than direct us on a path through the Terra Incognita. Yet, we crave something more beyond our smartly planned objectives. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Christian Psalm tells us. Stillness, tranquility, peacefulness, calm and concentration; the Buddhists call it Samatha.  

Our raison d’être for exploring the geography of psyche is to discover deeper and lasting meaning, direction and rationale through an evident lack of meaning, direction and rationale.  Consequently, occupation, career, acquisitiveness, and changing technology and systems are now endemic throughout our collective and personal unconscious. Taking the time to work through a crisis, even a relatively minor one, requires us to concede that our bridges are not so stylish, not so sturdy, not so safe. The map plainly illustrates that the monsters of fable, which use to haunt the imaginations of all travelers has been replaced with a less discernible, albeit more frightening, pathology produced from a life left unquestioned and anxiety unchecked. Sadly, our egos are not well-versed in plotting an effective course, and anxiety swells while we further devise elevated, objective methods to escape the natural world lingering below. 

This increased anxiety results in a further distancing from our creative selves, while we force as much activity and noise into our psyche in a self-medicating attempt to obscure the call for calm. Reality television, shop from home, instant messaging, downloadable music and movies, and even therapy by e-mail are now directly accessible in packages that are engaging on the surface, but are ultimately symptomatic of our creative insolvency. These diversions, void of personal meaning and substance, nurture our digressions and weaken our creative and psychological vigor. 

Simply put, we’ve become bored with our lives.  

Therapists have an obligation to be familiar with the creative influence of stillness and the empowerment of silence as an art, not a technique. In recent years, our profession has demanded we circumvent the prickly subject of being still; a quiet mind is metaphorically viewed as a “devil’s playground,” and most empirical validated therapies heed this adage. 

Stay distracted, rate your feelings on a number scale, complete the therapeutic “homework” and your symptoms will decrease. However, the source of the individual’s malaise remains unattended like a super-sized, hyperactive child running amok in a jungle-gym of smoke and mirrors. The inexhaustible revisions in textbooks, the pretensions of clinical research and statistics, the departmental and administrative meetings, and the suggestion that we as therapists somehow provide helpful and informed solutions for others, exhibits the inane, magical thinking that all too often plagues our human sciences. Bells and whistles will explain away pain, while homework and workbooks will change behaviors.  

Let us never lose sight of what Toto revealed behind the curtain. 

Within the context of the creative process, our ability to integrate psyche is much more possible than through other orientations if executed with care, compassion and understanding. Just as a tree is an arrangement of numerous substances that compose its treeness, imagination and vision tend to present as multifaceted essentials. There are many roots to the same tree all moving in different directions, but sharing common qualities. The same could be said for the creative process, be it writing, painting, sculpting, or composing music. The cohesive bond shared between artist and expression is a silent channel of communication that is open, deep and provides connectivity to the psyche in a creative style. 

It is our creative, artistic endeavors that become the conduit for change, and it’s here that the spiritual essence of an individual-in-the-world can be called forth. Psyche is always with us. She is ever present and can either be embraced and accepted or avoided, displaced and repressed into a nothingness that eventually pressures us to reevaluate and renew ourselves.

Exploring the crossroads of creativity and psyche reawakens our conception and understanding of both. The most prized gift we can give the other is our creative presence. This presence need not be spoken in any language other than that of the artist’s silence. When our presence is attentive it blooms within us and others, crafting an otherwise ordinary encounter into a rich tapestry on a weaver’s endless loom.