Event: Intimate Transformation Intensive, Koh Phanang, Thailand, January 2020

Taking some time and space to actively work with intimacy and relationships has been amongst the most fun, exciting, fulfilling and transformative things I’ve done. So I’m really happy to be stepping into this space again supporting Justine Baruch as team psychotherapist in the upcoming Intimate Transformation Intensive (ITI) next January, 2020 in Koh Phanang, Thailand. Many of us seem to experience intimate relationships as a very hit and miss space in which we try our best without really knowing what the hell we are doing. Along with all the wonderful parts we also encounter a lot of disappointment and lack of fulfilment that is often hard to acknowledge due to fears on many fronts such as creating a mess, upsetting our partners, being rejected, hurting someone or being hurt. Maybe we end up concluding that to be really satisfied is simply an unattainable fantasy and resign ourselves to much less than we really desire. I know from my own experience and from witnessing others do this work that really exploring intimacy and relationships reveals that so much more is attainable than we ever realized. It is profound work. For bookings and more information see https://justinebaruch.com/intimate-transformation-intensive.

Feeling more, hurting less

You may have heard the concept that healing is about better feeling, not feeling better. Whilst that has a nice ring to it, it is only partly true, or at least requires further elaboration, as we are of course inherently motivated to seek to feel better rather than worse. Figuring out what makes us feel better is a worthy pursuit! It is not our natural preference for feeling better that is the problem, but our attachment to it and aversion to feeling uncomfortable. Our reactivity to how we feel, not our preference for feeling better, causes us suffering.

If we habitually reject anything that doesn't immediately feel good we limit ourselves in various ways. We can prevent ourselves from healing past traumas, responding effectively to triggering situations, working towards important goals that require some struggle, discipline or effort and generally from really feeling as alive as we can. We effectively limit ourselves to repeat the same old patterns in life.

At a more subtle but profound level we also prevent ourselves from discovering some of the deeper realisations that are available to us if we discipline our minds and genuinely open to the truth behind our subjective experience of life. This is not something immediately obvious to most of us, but it has been repeatedly observed and can be demonstrated relatively quickly to those that are willing to really look at what is going on in their minds.

The words we use to describe our emotions can become an important aspect of this because our labels provide contextual information about what we are feeling and what we think it means. If we broaden the range of feeling words we use, we simultaneously broaden the range of potential meanings of what we are feeling. In order to do this we must become willing to open to the experience of each feeling as it arises so that we can actually identify it specifically and according to a broad range of options, rather than simplistically labelling the feeling according to a limited range of words, such as “good or bad” or “happy or unhappy” for example, or of turning to a rationalised story about why we are feeling something. The very attempt to understand what a feeling is, where it is coming from and what it means, in the absence of a story about it, implies a willingness to feel it and investigate it enough to have that level of self-awareness and specificity. It turns out this is a very good thing!

The linked article refers to this ability to specifically label our feelings as "emotional granularity". The more emotions we can reliably differentiate as we experience them the higher our emotional granularity. Developing emotional granularity appears to have a positive impact on life. Higher emotional granularity has been associated with being more resilient, recovering more easily from stress, drinking less alcohol, and even higher academic success!

The work the article summarises was inspired when the author started compiling emotional words from other languages that had no direct English equivalent. Their existence implies a fluency in those other languages and cultures with expressing emotions in ways that English speakers may not have, as there are no readily available words to do so. Have you ever wanted to say you feel “gigil”, a Tagalog word to describe the urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished? This is a very particular description of a feeling, that must be clearly differentiated from other feelings in a very specific way, to have any honest meaning. If such a word is used within a culture, then the assumption is that people in that culture are generally aware when they feel this way, and willing to communicate it without further elaboration. The specific label itself, without story or justification, is sufficient to explain it.

It’s a fun idea to explore, and to think about how we might all become more aware of what we are feeling so we can enjoy the benefits of “better feeling” through increasing our emotional granularity. Even if you don’t go so far as to start learning foreign words for emotions or felt senses, it is worth considering how willing and able you are to feel and identify the emotions you experience on a day to day basis as they arise. To me this general willingness to feel all our emotions is an important psychological principle. It is much trickier to consistently apply than it might at first seem, but the goal, however lofty, is highly worthwhile.

Ayahuasca and Mindfulness on the Mikeadelic podcast

We just completed another wonderful workshop at the Temple of the Way of Light and whilst there I spoke to Mike Brancatelli for his podcast, Mikeadelic. We talked about the value of using self inquiry, mindfulness and other psychological skills and processes alongside working with psychedelics like ayahuasca. The feedback from our guests at the workshop was extremely positive and I was once again reminded how powerful this work can be in helping to shift even longstanding issues.

You can check it out here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Event: 13-Day Mindfulness and Ayahuasca Retreat – Peru, October 2017

From September 30th to October 12th 2017 I’m excited to be offering a new program at the Temple of the Way of Light, called “Mindfulness and the Medicine”. The program contains training in mindfulness practices alongside four ayahuasca ceremonies with two of the Temple´s amazing Shipibo maestros. The combination of mindfulness practices with ayahuasca ceremonies provides a profound opportunity for deep healing and to take away skills with which to continue to cultivate inner peace and resilience to help you integrate the work of the ceremonies and maintain the sense of inspiration that they can bring. For booking information see:

Mindfulness and the Medicine: A New Paradigm in Healing

Core beliefs: Vicious circles and changing the game

If you haven’t heard of core beliefs, it’s worth developing some understanding of what they are and how they affect you. The term ´core belief´ refers to the deeply held foundational beliefs we have about life. They form very early on in our cognitive development (in our early childhood) and most of our rules and strategies for living are built on top of the them. By the time we are adults, our core beliefs are generally stable.

You can have positive core beliefs like, “I am a good person”, or, “I am loveable”, which are generally benign and helpful to have. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of us end up with at least some less than helpful core beliefs like “I’m not good enough”, “I’m worthless” or, “I’m a bad person” (and various others). The reasons we form unhelpful core beliefs include cultural conditioning, ancestry, traumatic or emotionally distressing experiences, intentional and accidental neglect and abuse and various other factors that shape our experience of life in a less than helpful way.

You know an unhelpful core belief is activated because a deep and familiar unpleasant feeling comes up. The trigger will often be something stressful, upsetting or potentially challenging happening. This even includes positively challenging things, like opportunities to do something new or meet some new people. It is likely to feel very familiar and may not even seem like a clearly articulated thought. It might seem more like a deeply felt sense or perception about yourself or the world. It often just seems like “the way things are”. Sometimes, the very familiarity means we don't realise we are actually perceiving things in a very specific way, through the lens of a biased and subjective core belief, rather than any kind of objective truth.

It might seem hard to imagine seeing yourself or the world any other way. Most of our core beliefs are almost as old as us and operate partially unconsciously. Our habits of perception and behaviour reinforce them. If it’s the way things have always been then we assume it’s the way they always will be!

So can we actually change them!?

Core beliefs can be sneaky, stubborn and painful little buggers to work with. But, yes, with some (considerable) determination, you CAN change them! This involves several stages. Firstly, we need to realise that intentionally changing our beliefs IS possible. Secondly, we have to make the decision that we do want to change our beliefs. Thirdly, we need to find ways of doing that.

You do not have to know how, or to have perfect confidence in yourself to begin. These things can be discovered and developed along the way. There are various skills and strategies that can help you, but in general,  persistence and time are the key ingredients, regardless of which methods you are using to try to change your beliefs.

Sometimes you can get lucky, and change comes easily or even accidentally when the circumstances of life conspire to give you the opportunity to see things differently without much effort on your part. But, for the most part, if you really want to get anywhere, it comes down to being willing to work gradually through things and create the opportunities to learn something new about yourself and the world. The reason it can be hard work is we are less impressionable when we are older than when we are children.

We are trying to change when we are actually not as flexible or fast at learning new things as we were when we formed our beliefs in the first place. That might sound a bit pessimistic, but it helps to be realistic and to understand why you might sometimes feel it’s so hard to change some aspects of yourself, despite your heartfelt wish to. Once you realise that is totally normal to find changing your core beliefs hard, at least you can be reassured it’s not your fault! (Repeat after me: “It is NOT my fault!”). This is true regardless of what you may have heard or may even tell yourself.

Even though it is not your fault you formed the beliefs you did,  you can choose to take responsibility for the opportunity to change. No one else can do that for you. That doesn't mean you have to do everything yourself. People can help you, sometimes a lot, so do ask for help when you can. Help can come in many forms, not even just from other people. Inspiration can appear anywhere in the world and can emerge from inside your mind in the most unexpected ways. But in the end, you are the one who is going to carry the change as it emerges within yourself. Your conscious commitment to that is the most reliable aspect of all this that is within your control.

So, why is this even a thing!?

We are creatures of habit, and it can seem more comfortable to stay the same, than try to change, and face the potential to fail or to feel worse. The very core beliefs we want to change can create a vicious circle.  For example, imagine you have a core belief like:  "I'm not good enough". Therefore, when you think about trying to change, chances are you will think: "If I try, I'll fail"...Then you might be tempted not to try at all; or if you do, to give up easily assuming any small setback is a sign of failure.

Sound familiar? Such thinking is more common than you might realise. Not a very helpful thinking pattern is it!? But in reality, most of us carry this or other vicious circles in our thinking habits to some degree. And they interact with each other like a web of lies, distorting everything we look at and experience. Like I said, sneaky little buggers!

So, yes, you are normal if this happens to you. But, you CAN change. If you are willing to put in the work, the benefits are absolutely worth it! No doubt about it!! Core beliefs are the beliefs at the very heart of how we see ourselves and the world. They effect all our experiences on a daily basis. So even if you only partially change even one of the unhelpful ones to something more helpful, you carry that benefit into every experience you have from then on! So the benefits compound long after the initial effort has passed.

Once you have made one change, it becomes easier to believe that a second change is possible. Once you've made a few small changes, you can start to see the cumulative effect. Once you experience a significant shift in perception, all of a sudden the whole of life begins to look like a very different game than it did before....

So, what have we got to lose!?

Event: 9-Day Integration Intensive Ayahuasca Retreat – Peru, August 2017

From August 7 to 15th, 2017, I’ll be assisting at a 9-Day Integration Intensive Ayahuasca Retreat with Dr. Tanya Maté at the Temple of the Way of Light in Peru. The retreat will combine the work of Shipibo healers with in-depth group processing, that will serve to bridge the teachings of ayahuasca with a psycho-spiritual understanding of the Western mind.

The group work will provide a framework for inquiry into the self, increasing your understanding of your ceremony experiences and giving you direction for continuing the work in your day-to-day life. While ceremonies themselves provide profound healing, integration — the process of bringing the medicine teachings into your life — is an equally important piece of the work, and one that is often too easily overlooked. The group processing will help to set the stage for powerful integration once you go back into your life.

For more information or to book your place, click here, to access the website of the Temple of the Way of Light.

Seven questions to ask yourself to break free from worrying

What is worrying?

Worrying is when you think about things that might happen in the future. A little bit of worrying is OK if it leads to a solution you then act on. But what often happens is we worry repeatedly, going around in circles in our head without ever doing anything about it. Sometimes we don’t realise how much we do this or what impact it has on us.

How does it worrying feel?

Most people will tell you they feel anxious, frightened, down, helpless, ashamed, embarrassed or some other unpleasant emotion. I doubt you’ll find anyone who says they enjoy it!

So, given it feels bad, why do people do it so much?

Worrying is like a mental bad habit. We worry because, at some level, we believe it helps us. If we truly didn’t believe anything good would come of worrying, we simply wouldn’t do it. Or as soon as we realised we were doing it, we would immediately stop.

Why do people think worrying is helpful?

You can discover this by noticing when you are worrying and stopping to ask yourself what you are hoping to achieve. Here are a few common reasons people give:

Worrying helps me solve problems.
Worrying helps me avoid things I don’t want.
Worrying shows that I care.
If I didn’t worry that would make me a careless or heartless person.
Worrying helps me prepare for bad things happening.
Worrying makes me focus.
I can’t stop myself from worrying even if I want to.

Are these beliefs really true?

The short answer is: No. But saying it just like that is unlikely to convince most people to stop worrying. Doing so takes patient self-inquiry. There are various methods but all start from a recognition that worrying doesn’t feel good and therefore it’s worth questioning.

So what’s the alternative to worrying?

Again, there are various methods of breaking out of the habit of worrying. One popular way is to compare worrying side by side to a structured problem solving technique. Here’s an example of seven problem solving questions you can ask yourself to help you break free of worrying…

As soon as you notice you are worrying, ask yourself:

1. What specifically am I worrying about?

Take a step back and reflect on what you are actually worried about. Many people don’t recognise how scattered their worries are until they try to define them. That itself is a clue: If you can’t think clearly when you are worrying, how helpful is it likely to be?

2. Is this something I can actually do anything about?

You’ll be surprised how often you find yourself worrying about something completely imaginary, or that you can’t actually do anything about anyway. Again, that’s a clue: If you can’t do anything about something, what is the point of worrying about it?

3. If yes, what is it that I can do?

This is where we start to shift towards practical problem solving. Brain storm. Make a list. Again, be specific and make sure these are things that really can be done, even if they might take time, or you need help. Break big steps down into smaller steps wherever possible.

4. Is there anything that can be done, right now?

One of the fastest ways to offset worrying about something, is to take action based on the list of things you can do about it. Even small steps, like sending an email, or phoning someone can benefit your state of mind.

5. What can I schedule to do later?

If there are steps you can’t take now, but can later, schedule them. Make a note in your diary or planner of what you will do and when. Again, even small steps written down like that are effective in reducing worrying.

6. Now, think again, what remains?

Once you have done everything that can be done now, and scheduled everything else that can be done later, and acknowledged what you can´t do anything about, what is left? If something is still niggling you, try going through the previous steps again to see if you missed anything. At this point (or even before) many people realise there is no point worrying anymore.

7. What do I want to focus on instead of worrying?

Intentionally refocusing on something of your choice will often help to shake off any remaining worry, especially if you have thoroughly considered all the above steps. It also helps to remind yourself (as often as needed!) that you can make a choice about what to focus on, even if your mind seems to run away with itself when you forget that!

Try it out next time you find yourself worrying about something. What do you think? How does going through these seven steps compare to your normal habit of worrying? Is there anything you would add or change here? What works best for you?

You can reach me here.