Diane Poole Heller

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Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D., is an established expert in the field of Child and Adult Attachment Theory and Models, trauma resolution, and integrative healing techniques. Diane developed her own signature series on Adult Attachment called DARe (Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience) also known as SATe (Somatic Attachment Training experience). Dr. Heller began her work with Dr. Peter Levine, founder of SETI (Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute) in 1989. As Senior Faculty for SETI, she taught Somatic Experiencing® trauma work internationally for over 25 years. As a dynamic speaker and teacher, Diane has been featured at prestigious international events and conferences. She is the author of numerous articles in the field. Her book “Crash Course” on auto accident trauma resolution is used worldwide as a resource for healing a variety of overwhelming life events. Her film, “Surviving Columbine,” produced with Cherokee Studios, aired on CNN and supported community healing in the aftermath of the school shootings. Sounds True recently published Dr. Heller’s audio book: “Healing Your Attachment Wounds: How to Create Deep and Lasting Relationships” and her upcoming book, “The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships.”

As developer of DARe and president of Trauma Solutions, a psychotherapy training organization, Dr. Heller supports the helping community through an array of specialized topics. She maintains a limited private practice in Louisville, Colorado.

Author photo © Josh Levin


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Helping Someone with a Disorganized Attachment Style

Helping Someone with a Disorganized Attachment Style Header ImageYou may not identify with the disorganized adaptation yourself, but perhaps people close to you live with this attachment style.

Clearly, this is not intended to serve as an end-all guide to helping these people (or anyone else, for that matter), but if you want to promote safety and secure relating in others, I highly recommend trying out the following habits. And if you’re a person of the disorganized style, I hope you’ll feel empowered to request the following practices from people you love:

Communicate simply and clearly.

As I illustrated at the beginning of this chapter, people with disorganized attachment often grew up in households with confusing mixed messages. For this reason, it’s important to be as clear and direct as possible in your speech, especially when it comes to instructions or directions, or when your partner or child seems stuck in indecision or confusion. This occurs most profoundly in the freeze state, when people can have trouble finding the right words, responding at all, or even forming basic thoughts. When this occurs, giving the disorganized person as few options as possible is the best idea. Even in a less-charged state, they might have trouble choosing where to go to dinner among a number of favorite restaurants, and under stress, it’s best to reduce any options down to two or three, max. Remember also to describe and explain things to children using age-appropriate concepts and language.

Be mindful of your tone of voice.

How we use our voice—especially the prosody, or tone of voice—communicates safety or danger to others. A melodic voice that employs fluid modulation and intonation fosters a sense of safety, whereas a monotone or robotic voice comes across as cold, uncaring, and in some cases, threatening. We often use a more musical tone of voice with babies and animals, our voice going up and down with affection in an exaggerated, singsong way. I’m not suggesting going around using the same type of voice with adults, but modulating your tone will certainly help when you’re speaking with others.

Think about how people’s voices change when they’re angry or feel endangered; that’s an evolutionary cue to the community that something’s wrong. When danger occurs, we are biologically and evolutionarily designed to shift our tone to alert the tribe. Women’s voices tend to become high-pitched and shrill, while men lower their tone and get louder, producing a booming voice. It immediately signals to other people that there is danger, that they should stop what they are doing and prepare to defend themselves. But when our voice does this under stress during a discussion or conflict with our partner—a relatively safe person (hopefully) whom we love—it can easily trigger their threat response, shifting them toward fighting or wanting to escape. So if you’re interested in reconciliation and a positive result for your relationship, it will benefit you to be mindful of how you use your voice. Practicing a calming, soothing, and well-modulated voice will reduce a sense of threat in your partner when you are trying to work out intimacy issues or relationship concerns. Shrill or booming, threat-stimulating voices will trigger our amygdala, or reptilian brain, that’s engaged in promoting survival responses, making our partner appear as an enemy rather than as our beloved.

Practice safe touch.

Using touch in a way that’s loving and conscious of another person’s boundaries also creates a feeling of safety. Physical touch amplifies anything we might be expressing verbally. In Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, Patti Wood says that we communicate regulation through regulated touch. That is, when we are regulated in our own body, we can convey physiological regulation even with a handshake. The key is to be centered and grounded in your own nervous system—within your own range of resiliency—before you employ touch in this way. Wood asserts that a simple, regulated handshake can offer more regulation than three hours of affirming, empowered conversation. Safe touch may help you and your partner regulate each other. Be mindful, however, that if your dysregulation is severe, it might be too much to touch another without dysregulating them. The chemistry or energy of your skin on theirs is communicated in a tangible way, so keep in mind the importance of taking time to establish your own regulation first if you can manage it. Think about how regulating hugs are when the other person is calm, loving, and safe. I’m not talking about those quick, pat-you-on-the-back kind of hugs, but the ones that involve bellies touching one another in a full-contact embrace. Try it with someone you feel close to. You can feel each other’s bodies regulating from this type of contact.

One technique I often use with clients is to begin by simply sitting next to the person. I feel what that’s like for a bit—getting a sense of their energy, so to speak—and allow them to get used to me. I ask if it is okay to place one of my palms near their back, between their shoulder blades, starting in their energy feld about three or four inches away from their skin, checking in with them to see how they’re doing. If that goes well, and they agree, I gently put my hand on their body and find the right amount of pressure—too much or too little can make a big difference. I also ask them to let me know where the best spot on their back is, and I shift my hand in response. By doing so, I am adjusting my contact in attunement with their request, so they have the experience of having their needs met as I convey safety, presence, and care. For ongoing support, we can teach our partners or family members to do this, too.

Look at others (and use facial expressions) with kindness.

How we use our face when we express ourself can also communicate a sense of safety to our partner. The eyes are of particular importance. Take the idea of what I call “the beam gleam.” It’s a soft, safe gaze you see between couples that display secure attachment. It involves a lot of eye contact, of course, but also a look that expresses appreciation, love, and a sense that the other person is special. As I mentioned, it’s important to invite this type of connection only when the person is available for it and not when they are dealing with shame, signaled by gaze aversion. Often their shame needs to be processed a bit before you can establish a nourishing connection with an attachment gaze. These nonverbal messages of connection and kindness really do trigger other people’s safety responses. Think about the difference in your partner’s face when they’re angry (scowling, tense) and when they’re happy to be with you (smiling, eyes wide and bright). People read your gaze and facial expressions all the time, even if they’re not conscious of it.

This is an excerpt from The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller, PhD.

Diane Poole Heller head shotPower of Attachment Book CoverDiane Poole Heller, Ph.D., is an established expert in the field of Child and Adult Attachment Theory and Models, trauma resolution, and integrative healing techniques. Diane developed her own signature series on Adult Attachment called DARe (Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience) also known as SATe (Somatic Attachment Training experience). Dr. Heller began her work with Dr. Peter Levine, founder of SETI (Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute) in 1989. As Senior Faculty for SETI, she taught Somatic Experiencing® trauma work internationally for over 25 years. As a dynamic speaker and teacher, Diane has been featured at prestigious international events and conferences. She is the author of numerous articles in the field.

Buy your copy of The Power of Attachment at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

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Tracing the Roots of Your Attachment Style

Tracing the Roots of Your Attachment Style Header Image

Let’s face it: life is sometimes quite hard. It doesn’t matter who you are; all of us inevitably bump into challenges and hardships that are beyond our control. If you’re on this planet long enough, you’re going to be hit with some form of misattunement or loss or abuse or divorce or disease or a car accident or an environmental disaster or war or who knows what. Sometimes these events are so overwhelming that we don’t even have the capacity to react or respond to them. You can’t stop these things from happening; they’re just part of what it means to be human. And to make matters even trickier, epigenetic studies now suggest that—in a manner of speaking—we may inherit the struggles of our ancestors. In one way or another, we’re affected by everything that our grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on went through and suffered from. But we’re also the products of their resiliency. Throughout time and our evolution as a species, people have been experiencing hardships and doing their best to endure and survive them.

So, life is hard, and it isn’t your fault. That’s just the way it is, which means that you can stop blaming yourself as if you alone are responsible. There are countless ways for any of us to end up experiencing trauma, and most of them have nothing to do with how we live our life or what kind of person we are. That’s the bad news.

But there’s good news, too.

We can do something about it.

We’re all born with an amazing capacity to survive, heal, and thrive, which is precisely the reason we’ve made it this far to begin with. It’s what we’re built for.

Before we go on, I want to be clear about what I mean when I say the word trauma. Without getting too technical, trauma is what results from experiencing an event over which you have little control; sometimes—as in the case with major accidents—you don’t even have time to brace yourself for the impact. These events overwhelm your ability to function normally, and this can make you lose trust in your feelings, thoughts, and even your body. In this way, trauma is a form of tremendous fear, loss of control, and profound helplessness.

I’ve also started thinking of trauma in terms of connection. The theme of broken connection has come up in my work repeatedly over the years: broken connection to our body; broken connection to our sense of self; broken connection to others, especially those we love; broken connection to feeling centered or grounded on the planet; broken connection to God, Source, Life Force, well-being, or however we might describe or relate to our inherent sense of spirituality, open-hearted awareness, and beingness. This theme has been so prominent in my work that broken connection and trauma have become almost synonymous to me.

When trauma hits us or we’ve experienced a lot of relational wounding, we can feel like we’re utterly disconnected—like we’re a tiny little me who’s isolated and all alone, as if we’re in our own little bubble floating around in a sea of distress, cut off from everyone and everything. I think it’s our work to pop that imaginary bubble, or at least to build bridges that connect us to others we care about. Unresolved trauma, in my opinion, has led to a nationwide epidemic of loneliness and hurt. And it isn’t just in our country. The evidence of this type of pain worldwide is readily available any time you turn on the news. That’s not the whole story, fortunately. We can heal and change. All of us are capable of healing and repairing these severed connections: to ourself, other people, the planet, and whatever it is that holds it all together.

But we can’t do it alone.

First of all, we not capable of healing in isolation. We need other people. Stan Tatkin, clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and developer of A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) along with his wife, Tracey Boldemann-Tatkin, says that we are hurt in relationship and we heal in relationship. The presence of those close to us makes a difference even in the most dire circumstances. Just to mention one study among thousands, a hospital in Illinois recently demonstrated that coma patients recovered more quickly when they were able to hear the voices of their family members.

Like it or not, we’re all on this crazy and amazing human journey together.

We can never be completely safe, but we can move toward relative safety in life and in our relationships. We will never have our needs met perfectly, and we will never be (nor have) the perfect parent. Thankfully, that’s not required for deep and lasting healing. As we grow out of our wounded self and become a more securely attached, resilient being, we can foster the same process in others, becoming intimacy initiators and connection coaches for our families, friends, and the larger world.

Let’s take a look at both sides of our parents’ behavior. Each of us is a work in progress, and I’m sure your parents had some unfinished business along with their more admirable qualities. You may find this exercise helpful in taking a deeper look into what was problematic and painful as well as the gifts your family bestowed. So often our memories of difficult times overshadow the benefits we may have gained, so this exercise is aimed at helping us see more of the whole picture—to acknowledge and grieve wounds as well as celebrate wisdom gained. Of course, often we gain wisdom and compassion from healing our wounds as well.

 

EXERCISE: Perfectly Imperfect

 

Part One—What Was Missing or Hurtful?

You may want to start this exercise by making a list of the shortcomings or failings of each of your parents—those circumstances or behaviors that had the most negative influence on you as a child. What happened is significant, and how you internalized it is even more so. Sometimes it’s easier to recount our parents’ negative attributes than it is to remember any of their positive ones, especially for those of us with an ambivalent or disorganized attachment style. Our negative experiences may overshadow the everyday neutral or basically good experiences we may have had until we regain a sense of them after healing many early wounds. People with the avoidant attachment style tend to see their histories as mostly fine, until feelings of longing resurface and they realize what they missed relationally.

Part Two—What Was Beneficial or Supportive?

My mother was a tough teacher. She lived with unresolved emotional distress, but she was also fun-loving and generous. Despite sometimes being a less-than-ideal parent, she had her own ways of expressing her love to me with special celebrations, generous gift-giving, helping me with projects close to my heart, and shopping for fun bargains we called “treasure hunting.” My father was similarly complex: he was out of touch with his emotional self and gone a lot for his work, yet he was able to convey his love quietly in a steadfast way through providing for the family, locking the doors at night, fixing my bike, teaching me to water ski, and grilling great food for picnics. He also had the core value of volunteerism that survives in our family to this day. Both of my parents did the best they could under the circumstances, and together they taught us important core values.

Try looking at each of your parents through the lens of how they may have shown you their love. Write down all the ways you have learned important lessons, skills, and insights from your most important caregivers. It can help to describe your mother and father on their best days. As best you can, give them the benefit of the doubt and consider that they were doing the very best they could with whatever level of unresolved trauma or attachment injury they lived with, as well as with whatever resources, education, and healing strategies they had available to them at that time. See if you can detect their deep care amid their imperfections and harming behaviors, no matter how murky or inarticulate they were in expressing that love for you. What do you find?

This is an excerpt from The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller, PhD.

 

Diane Poole Heller head shotDiane Poole Heller, Ph.D., is an established expert in the field of Child and Adult Attachment Theory and Models, trauma resolution, and integrative healing techniques. Diane developed her own signature series on Adult Attachment called DARe (Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience) also known as SATe (Somatic Attachment Training experience). Dr. Heller began her work with Dr. Peter Levine, founder of SETI (Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute) in 1989. As Senior Faculty for SETI, she taught Somatic Experiencing® trauma work internationally for over 25 years. As a dynamic speaker and teacher, Diane has been featured at prestigious international events and conferences. She is the author of numerous articles in the field.

Her book Crash Course, on auto accident trauma resolution, is used worldwide as a resource for healing a variety of overwhelming life events. Her film, Surviving Columbine, produced with Cherokee Studios, aired on CNN and supported community healing in the aftermath of the school shootings. Sounds True recently published Dr. Heller’s audiobook Healing Your Attachment Wounds: How to Create Deep and Lasting Relationships, and her book, The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships.

As a developer of DARe and president of Trauma Solutions, a psychotherapy training organization, Dr. Heller supports the helping community through an array of specialized topics. She maintains a limited private practice in Louisville, Colorado.

 

Power of Attachment Book Cover

Buy your copy of The Power of Attachment at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

4 Tips to Get Back to Secure Attachment

4 Tips to Get Back to Secure Attachment Blog - Hero Image

When we talk about what secure attachment looks like, it’s not unusual for people to give themselves a hard time. It seems like such a high bar, and when we look at it that way, it’s easy to feel not quite up to snuff. I can relate to that feeling, and I think it’s quite normal for everyone to feel that way from time to time.

We all have emotional reactions we’re not proud of, and most of us contribute our fair share to arguments and unnecessarily difficult conversations. And many of us simply aren’t as present as we’d like to be. We don’t feel quite here enough—either we’re distracted by one thing or another, or we’re not as attentive as we think we should be. Again, all of this is normal. Most of these things happen regularly—at least they do for me! The main point is to care enough to notice when things are less than ideal. That means having enough presence to know that things are a little off and enough compassion to want to do a retake, to make things better. There’s more wiggle room than you’d think. It’s okay to goof up, make mistakes, and be less than our perfect self. The attachment system is a forgiving system, and it makes a world of difference to register when we miss each other and mend when things go awry as soon as possible.

We can all do a better job, of course, and that’s where practice comes in. I want to offer you ways to practice fostering secure attachment in yourself and others. These are methods for boosting your secure attachment skills. The idea isn’t to ace every one of these, but pick out one or two that you feel called to work on and practice these the best you can. Hopefully, there are secure attachment skills here for everyone—skills you can offer others in your life, skills to practice mutually in your relationships, and skills to encourage secure attachment in yourself.

Secure Attachment Skill #1: Listen Deeply

Let’s start with one of the more obvious skills. We all know the value of listening, but most of us haven’t actually taken the time to develop our listening skills in any ongoing way. When we listen deeply, reflect back to the other person, and ask questions that help us understand them, we allow the other person to inform us of what’s going on with them—not in a superficial way, but in a manner that empowers them to really dive in, feel their feelings, and express them to us until we truly get them. We’re not simply listening until they take a breath so that we can jump into the conversation and say what’s on our mind. Listening deeply means that we respond with considerate questions meant to foster and convey understanding, and we always give space before explaining our perspective.

It’s important to note that when we listen to another person, we don’t have to believe or agree with what they are saying. Really listening to someone means that we don’t immediately respond to what they’re saying with denial or criticism. Instead of negating their concern or getting into an argument about it, we just listen. That’s it. And we can open up the contingency space even further by trying to resonate with them. “I understand why you’d be upset about that, and I can see that really hurt you,” for example. In other words, listening in this way means you’re offering to hold—to contain—whatever it is that they’re dealing with and be present with them, regardless of their emotional responses and reactions.

I think most of us have this in common: more than we want to be convinced otherwise or placated, we just really want to be heard on a deep level. That can be hard at times, of course, because relationships can bring up a lot of stuff for us, and it’s natural to have challenges when dealing with other people, especially those closest to us. But if we can do our best to listen, we can make the best of difficult situations, and we’ll have a much better chance of closing the gap between us and the person we’re listening to.

Secure Attachment Skill #2: Practice Presence

Listening is one of the ways we can show presence, which is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves and others in relationships. Presence isn’t a static thing; it’s a way of being. Presence means showing up, paying attention, and letting the other person know that we’re there for them with whatever’s going on. It means we do our best to put aside our own worries and concerns and be with them in an undistracted way. This can be hard in today’s world when it’s common to be on our devices so much of the time, but I highly recommend setting your phone or tablet aside when you want to show someone else that you’re truly present for them. Of course, this is impossible to do perfectly all the time, but there are certain things we can do to practice presence in order to become more available to others, as well as to ourselves.

Committing to remain undistracted with another person in a world that is so full of distractions is a powerful and fulfilling practice.Try it at dinner sometime: put everyone’s silenced cell phone in a basket while you’re enjoying the meal together and see what a difference it makes in your ability to connect. Attention is an extremely valuable commodity, and I recommend as much device-free, face-to-face time as you can manage. People know if you’re fully present or not, and it matters to them. Try being present when you’re on the phone sometime. Instead of doing something else—like surfing the Internet or washing the dishes—sit down and try to be as present and attentive as you possibly can. Give undistracted time to the people who are important to you and watch how that transforms your relationships.

Secure Attachment Skill #3: Attune

Attunement can mean a lot of things, but in this case it means becoming curious about another person’s experience and working to understand what they’re all about, discovering them in new ways and trying to resonate with them. How do they see the world? How do they experience their own feelings? And whatever emotions or situations arise, attunement also means that we do our best to connect with other people and let them know we’re there. Attunement is what enables that sense of contingency to arise. It lets the other person know that we really get them—that we’re by their side. This is an invaluable experience to receive and to offer another person.

Being dedicated to attunement also keeps us in touch with when we fall out of attunement with others, which is crucial knowledge to have in relationships. We’re oriented toward connection, but we’re also aware when that connection isn’t quite as we’d like it to be. If you feel you are not quite in sync with someone or are concerned that you don’t fully understand their situation or their feelings, ask the person to tell you more about what they are trying to share. Ask caring and clarifying questions.

Secure Attachment Skill #4: Engage in Joint Attention

Joint attention means mutually being there for each other, no matter what you’re doing: meditating together, dancing to your favorite song, telling jokes, making meals, or exercising. Any activity can serve to foster more secure attachment with your partner, child, family member, or friend when enacted with joint attention. You could be watching a movie on the flat-screen from your couch and still practice joint attention (for example, occasionally making eye contact with each other, laughing together, or having a conversation later about the film).

Discover even more secure attachment skills to try in The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller, PhD.

4 Tips to Get Back to Secure Attachment Blog - Diane Poole Heller

Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D., is an established expert in the field of Child and Adult Attachment Theory and Models, trauma resolution, and integrative healing techniques. Diane developed her own signature series on Adult Attachment called DARe (Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience) also known as SATe (Somatic Attachment Training experience). Dr. Heller began her work with Dr. Peter Levine, founder of SETI (Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute) in 1989. As Senior Faculty for SETI, she taught Somatic Experiencing® trauma work internationally for over 25 years. As a dynamic speaker and teacher, Diane has been featured at prestigious international events and conferences. She is the author of numerous articles in the field.

 Her book Crash Course, on auto accident trauma resolution, is used worldwide as a resource for healing a variety of overwhelming life events. Her film, Surviving Columbine, produced with Cherokee Studios, aired on CNN and supported community healing in the aftermath of the school shootings. Sounds True recently published Dr. Heller’s audiobook Healing Your Attachment Wounds: How to Create Deep and Lasting Relationships, and her book, The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships.

As developer of DARe and president of Trauma Solutions, a psychotherapy training organization, Dr. Heller supports the helping community through an array of specialized topics. She maintains a limited private practice in Louisville, Colorado.

Buy your copy of The Power of Attachment at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

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Mindful Movement: Walking Meditation 101

The Here and Now

What if you could change your life by doing one thing for just ten seconds each day? What if this thing would make you more contented, more grounded, and less stressed?

Welcome to mindfulness.

We spend almost all of our time worrying about two things: what has already happened (the past) and what hasn’t happened yet (the future). This only makes us miserable. The past is over, so there’s nothing we can do about it. And the future isn’t something we should be thinking about right now—unless we’re taking concrete action toward a goal.

Mindfulness breaks us out of this pattern by turning our awareness to the simple moments of life as they happen. We laser in on our senses as we’re experiencing them, and we feel them deeply.

So, the way to “be deep” is to focus on what’s going on right now.

I have two favorite ways to zap into the present moment.

The first way is to briefly tune in to my breath a few times a day. Set an alarm on your watch or phone to go off at three set times during the day. When it goes off, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Notice how the breath feels as it flows in and out. Let go of whatever else is going on in your mind. Then open your eyes and go back to your day.

The second way is to tune in to the little details of the day. Say you’re picking up a water bottle. Consider this: How does the bottle feel in your hand? Is it heavy or light? When you take a sip of the water, how does it feel on your tongue? Is it cool or warm? What does it taste like? Try this exercise with one small act each day.

deepMINDFUL MOVEMENT: Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a great way to de-stress and get centered while moving your body and getting some fresh air. It takes only a few minutes, so you can do it almost anywhere.

  1. The next time you’re walking down the street, start by getting your senses alert. Tune in to the pace of your steps and fall into the rhythm of the steps. What do they sound like?
  2. Turn your attention to an object you see as you’re walking. It might be a sign, a tree, or a building. Look intently at that object and observe it without labeling it. Just notice it.
  3. Now turn your attention to the noises that surround you. Don’t label them. Just listen.
  4. Finally, turn your attention to your breathing. Is it fast and shallow or slow and deep? Take a few deep breaths and continue with your steady pace.
  5. When you finish your walking meditation, take a minute and pause before reentering your day. Notice the way your body and mind feel. Carry that alertness and presence with you into the rest of your day

walking meditation

This is an excerpt from the chapter “Be Deep” from Whole Girl: Live Vibrantly, Love Your Entire Self, and Make Friends with Food by Sadie Radinsky.

 

sadie radinskySadie Radinsky is a 19-year-old blogger and recipe creator. For over six years, she has touched the lives of girls and women worldwide with her award-winning website, wholegirl.com, where she shares paleo treat recipes and advice for living an empowered life. She has published articles and recipes in national magazines and other platforms, including Paleo, Shape, Justine, mindbodygreen, and The Primal Kitchen Cookbook. She lives in the mountains of Los Angeles. For more, visit wholegirl.com.

 

 

 

 

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LaRayia Gaston: Love Without Reason

LaRayia Gaston is a former model, actress, and the founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to offering organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She filmed a documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row, which shows her time living with LA’s Skid Row residents and offers up a true picture of what life is really like in one of America’s largest homeless communities. In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with LaRayia about her new book, Love Without Reason. They discuss the superpower called “love”; why connection and empowerment are central to ending hunger; gratitude as an action, not just an attitude; transforming our “withholding” and scarcity mindsets; seeing humanity “on every corner, in every person”; and more. 

Bigger Isn’t Always Better (and Other Cultural Myths...

Some of our beliefs aren’t even ours. Like old wives’ tales passed down through generations or reflected back to us through society, we inherited certain cultural and familial narratives, adopted them, and left them unquestioned as “Truth.” Sometimes these inherited narratives and beliefs manifest as unquestioned traditions. For example, when making the Thanksgiving turkey, my friend’s mother always cut the breast of the bird off and roasted it separately. This process was embedded in my friend’s view of “how to cook a turkey.” When she moved to New York and began hosting her own Thanksgivings, she also sliced the top off the turkey and cooked it separately. Naturally. 

One year a guest asked her why she didn’t cook the turkey whole, which got her to thinking. She didn’t actually know why. It’s just the way it had always been done. So she called her mother to ask about the tradition: Why do we cut the tops off our turkeys? Her mother replied that she had always taken the top off because her mother had always taken the top off; it’s just the way she had learned how to cook a turkey. Naturally curious as to where this learned behavior all began, her mother called her mother, my acquaintance’s grandmother, and asked: Why do we cut the tops off our turkeys?

The grandmother, stumped, thought for a long, hard minute. “Oh,” she remembered, “the oven in my very first apartment was too small to fit an entire turkey, so I had to cook it with the top cut off.” Sixty years later, in a city across the country, my acquaintance was still cooking turkeys as a result of an oven that was too small. This is how inherited narrative works.

Here are some of the narratives that I inherited over the years, in order from most helpful to least: You can be anything that you want to be. Money isn’t very important. It is what it is, and it can’t be changed. Men prefer pretty over smart. Asking for help means you’re weak and needy. These are the ones that I’ve managed to tease out; I’m sure there are plenty more operating in the background that I can’t see.

Part of developing a wholesome or Beneficial View is identifying the stories that we live by, where they came from, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not they are helpful on the path of waking up to our worthiness. Shariputra, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, described Beneficial View as the practice of identifying which of our views spring from beneficial beliefs and which spring from harmful beliefs, and then choosing which to nourish and cultivate. Sometimes this also means looking at the views of the culture that we live in.

A few times every year, I host group coaching programs for a rather large online training institute with a global reach, drawing students from a dozen countries, primarily women of varying ages. These groups offer an encouraging environment in which we can speak openly about our fears and hesitations. Over the past decade, working as a coach has revealed to me just how many of us feel a chronic sense of falling behind and a nagging suspicion that we’re not quite _________ enough. You can fill in the blank here with your own particular flavor of not-enough-ness. Not educated enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, thin enough . . . You get the picture. A consistent element of these groups has been a gobsmacking number of women sharing that they view their capabilities as insufficient or lacking. Sometimes this feeling extends to the way that they view themselves as people. It’s said that if one fish washes up on the shore, the scientist will call it what it is: a dead fish. Nothing of note, really. However, if hundreds of fish wash up on the shore, the biologist won’t look to the fish for answers. They’ll test the water that the fish are swimming in. So what’s up with the water that we all seem to be swimming in?

In the Western hemisphere, there is a deeply embedded narrative of scarcity that is nearly invisible. I don’t know about you, but I clearly remember playing the childhood game of musical chairs. It begins as a cheerful romp around the circle, with kids squealing and running to nab a chair once the music stops. As the game progresses, however, the stakes get higher. The chairs begin to disappear. The slowest, smallest, and most accommodating kids get disqualified. And the fastest, most aggressive kids advance amidst the dwindling resource of chairs. Good, clean childhood fun. Also, a wonderful way to implicitly teach kids this prevailing myth of scarcity: There is simply not enough to go around. And you better get yours before someone else takes it.

Author, activist, and fund-raiser Lynne Twist illustrates this phenomenon exquisitely in her book The Soul of Money. She likens the scarcity narrative to a “helmet” of insufficiency that we wear throughout our day that flavors every interaction we have. For example, our first thought when getting up in the morning tends to be I didn’t get enough sleep. As we get ready for the day, we think, I don’t have enough to wear, I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough room on the subway, I don’t have enough help to get this job done well, There aren’t enough good men or women on Tinder, I don’t have enough energy to meet up with my friends, and then our final thought before falling asleep is I didn’t get enough done. This view of not having enough is truly pervasive. It’s no wonder that the women I’ve worked with consistently communicate that they don’t feel like they can live up to their own, or society’s, expectations.

Even if we try to address the messages we might tell ourselves about what we have and don’t have, we can’t avoid them altogether. I was riding the subway to Brooklyn one day when a father and his daughter, who was all of five or six years old, entered the train and stood toward the center of the car. She was chatting to her dad about her day at school until one of the many subway ads caught her eye. In it, there were two juxtaposed photos of a blonde woman. In one photo, the woman was frowning while holding a lemon in each hand, which were hovering at chest height. In the other, she was holding two grapefruits, also at chest height, but she was grinning. “Dad, why is she happy in that one and sad in that one?” the girl asked, pointing to the ad for breast augmentation. I swear the entire subway car went silent in anticipation of how her father would respond. He awkwardly and skillfully lobbed the question back to his daughter. “Well . . . what do you think?” The girl waited a beat and then answered, “She’s happy there because she has big ones and sad there because she has small ones.”

Clearly she had understood the message this poster was communicating to us all: a message of scarcity, insufficiency, and how one might always be “better.” And in that instant I understood how conditioning works. Hello, demon of self-doubt. Just like the fish in the ocean, we’re bound to swallow the water that we swim in. When considering what it means to develop Beneficial View, and the view of our own worthiness, it can be helpful to identify why we might not feel worthy to begin with. If our cultural perspective is rooted in the myth of “not enough,” it would logically follow that we would inherit this not-so-beneficial view of ourselves. Through looking at our own mind in meditation practice, we begin to take stock of the stories and beliefs that are not serving us, unraveling this myth of “not enough,” and revealing the Beneficial View of our innate wholeness and worth.

This is an excerpt from Tea and Cake with Demons: A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy by Adreanna Limbach.

 

adreanna limbachAdreanna Limbach is a personal coach and a lead meditation instructor at MNDFL, NYC’s premier drop-in meditation studio. Her teachings have been featured in the New York Times, Women’s Health, and Refinery29. She lives in New York City. For more, visit adreannalimbach.com.

 

 

 

 

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