Sunday, February 23, 2014

Healing Through Feeling: Six Ways to Reclaim Your Heart

Class is in! I'm really looking forward to teaching my workshop, Healing Through Feeling, in a couple of weeks. Below is a little preview of the class, 6 suggestions of how you can incorporate your feelings back into your life. 

Everyone has an inner and an outer experience, but the world is so focused on external, material matters, it can seem like your internal state isn't significant. We aren't given the space to shout, laugh, cry, jump up and down, or even truly express how we feel. We know through our compulsions, addictions, failed relationships, and depressions that simply trying to suppress our negative feelings doesn't work. It takes effort, bravery, and curiousity to focus on your inner life, respect its truth, and apply difficult lessons. Through this effort, we become familiar with the fundamentally unique and precious contours of our hearts. 

Want to get started but aren't sure how? Consider the ideas below. 

Healing Through Feeling: Six Ways to Reclaim Your Heart

1. ADMIT IGNORANCE - We are always finding ways to suppress, deny, or avoid our feelings. Unfortunately, this cuts off access to some of the most beautiful and intrinsic aspects of ourselves. To start healing, we must admit that there is so much we haven't let ourselves feel. 

2. EMBRACE YOUR INNER STATE - It's easy to get lost in the emotional whirlwind that is the external world. Bring more awareness to your internal state. Just for a minute each day, check in with your self and ask, what am I experiencing right now? Where could I locate my feeling in my body? How could I take a step towards that feeling? 

3. USE YOUR SHADOW- Any time you feel controlled by negative thoughts or overreact to a particular situation, you are probably triggered. Take this as a sign that there is an avoided feeling wanting to be felt. Bring curiosity and tenderness to your heart in these moments. Don't be afraid of your shadow. Use it to find the source of your light.

4. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY- Don't let the dysfunction of others dictate your feelings. Empower yourself by taking ownership of your emotional state. When we accept our role in the way we feel, it's harder to be caught with others in negative emotional cycles. Take responsibility for treating yourself with the respect, forgiveness, patience, and love you deserve. 

5. MAKE THE CHOICE - Desiring to heal and grow is only half the battle. To experience changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us, we must be willing to act in new and probably uncomfortable ways. True growth is always difficult. Commit to your best self and and know this can mean making tough choices.

6. SEEK INNER SUPPORT - When we don't believe we are loved or have support, feeling safe enough to be ourselves is impossible. Try opening up to the idea that there is love inside of you, a love that transcends the ways individuals have failed you and you have failed. Understand that your relationship to feeling this love is an ever evolving journey that is never perfect, never easy, and yet fosters the emergence of your deepest self. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Space Between

In order to undergo a significant degree of personal change, you have to become comfortable with the idea of there being some kind of split inside of yourself. A split between the person you play out in the world in certain ways and the person that you fundamentally are. Until we become okay with the idea that there is separation there, change, growth, or healing is not possible. Without accepting some degree of separation, there is nothing you could change, grow, or heal into. 

The process of learning about/struggling with the idea that there is a split between the behaviors and thoughts we engage in day in and day out and who we ‘really’ are, is what begins and in some ways ends the inward journey. It is natural to develop ideas about who we are, or in many cases, who we should be. But ultimately the point of the journey is not to discover and become the “real” you, but rather just to bring awareness to the fact that there is a split, to be present with that struggle and strive to be both courageous and tender with yourself as you become more conscious of it.

The problem with the idea that there is a distance between who you are presently and the ‘real’ you is it can be often be heard to mean that whatever you are now is bad, and you need to become the ‘real’ you in order to be good. This is one of the biggest difficulties I have come across in my one on one work with people, to present the idea that there could be more to their consciousness and experience, that they could grow and heal, without having that concept become another thing that makes them feel bad or good about themselves.

For, it is precisely this attachment to being a good person, doing the right thing, or to being a bad person, who can do nothing right, that causes the greatest separation from our real selves. And by real self, here, what I mean is the part of us that accepts we are loved simply because we exist. I understand this is a arbitrary definition and perhaps more relevant, I understand those words only have meaning to the extent that the truth of that statement has felt real to me. There have been moments where I have felt the enormity of the love that exists, the divine connection kind-of-love that persists within me despite everything, no matter how many times I want to pretend its not there, no matter how much cruelty and suffering and trauma and torture and just plain apathy that remains day in and day out and I can still feel that? I can still feel loved? It's huge. And overwhelming. It feels way more real than so much other stuff I think is so important. And then it’s gone.  

A lot of people seem to purport that the vast majority of other human lives matter, that other humans should be treated with respect, and that they deserve love and compassion, not just because of what they achieve but simply because they are human. Even if this thought is only fleeting, it is a wonder that we even come to have these feelings at all, that when we see images of humans suffering around the world and we actually think, that’s not right.

I say it is a wonder because meanwhile, in our inner lives, we can think and act in the complete opposite way, believing instead that our value as human beings and whether we deserve compassion and love is dependent upon whether or not we do the ‘right’ thing. Or conversely, we believe that because we have done the ‘wrong’ thing, we are wrong to the core, and will never deserve any love or compassion again.

That we are fundamentally loved just for being is one of the core teachings of Jesus, and the ways that his message has been misinterpreted is a great illustration of the difficulty I’m talking about. Take the catch phrase of so many Christians: Jesus Loves You. Instead of interpreting that message to mean, “feeling loved just for being who you are is always possible, forgiveness and salvation are your birthright,” it is transformed into, “Unless you do everything that Jesus said and feel how he loves you, you’re a bad person who is doomed to hell,” which is why Christianity and so many other religions have become associated with guilt, judgment, and condemnation instead of the original message of love. Depending on our persuasion, ‘everything that Jesus said’ could be anything, ideas we have about politics, who our parents wanted us to be, what we thought was 'cool' because our friends did it, etc. Usually, we construct some amalgam of all of these things that has just enough individuality for us to believe they are the ‘real’ us. We live our lives in service to this idea and in doing so don’t have time to struggle with the deepest parts of ourselves.

The truth is, as humans, we crave the concreteness of believing there are good guys and there are bad guys, of being able to follow the rules. It helps to keep things from being so goddamn scary all the time, which they are, because we are these fragile little bodies that live on an unpredictable planet and the minute we are born we begin our short little path to death. We want to cling onto our ideas about what we think is right and what we think is wrong and then align ourselves to either side because it keeps us safe. It makes it much easier to predict what is going to happen next. We want to be given a checklist to follow so we won’t have to worry about what we are and why the hell we are living this precious human life in the first place.

This frame of mind is so automatic I’m not sure if it is even escapable. In fact, I know it isn’t. To make any kind of absolutism the goal (‘I will always love Jesus…’) is to be right back where we started. Of course we are always going to have judgments of ourselves and the world around us. At times, even, I think it may be necessary for us to have that kind of motivation in our lives, to do things just because we think they are the ‘right’ thing to do. To try to separate ourselves from all opinions and judgments would mean to strip away so much of our external reality it would no longer be recognizable.

So, then, we must modify the task: it is simply to understand that a split exists at all. That there is a place in you that knows, deep down, that you are loved unconditionally, and even when that place seems impossible or ridiculous or heinous or offensive, it’s still there. That it is available to us to feel, to let the experience heal us, and ultimately to struggle with throughout our lives. A struggle to bring awareness to that space in you and let it expand and contract until you can feel its movement every second of every day, the difference between a moment where you accept this love/pain/fear/passion that is your soul and a moment when you turn away. A struggle to accept that this gap exists and still have love and compassion for yourself and others.

And once we believe we have won, that it is over, that we are everything we were ever suppose to be, it is actually the precise moment when we should try to find the gap again, take a finer tooth comb to the endless string of seemingly meaningless moments that compose the bulk of our lives. By embracing this contrast and existing in the split, we actually reach the core of what we are, these growing bursting ever-changing beings that thrive in the contradictions between what our brains can understand and what our hearts can feel. It is in contradictions that truth thrives, and thus, by diving deeply into the space between, we gain the opportunity to be whole. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

We Must Love Ourselves...In Relationship

Every single individual on this planet has a way of experiencing and expressing love in a way that is entirely unique to them. Through focused work and practice, as we learn to experience love for ourselves, we in turn can begin to feel love for everything around us. This is perhaps exampled best by the human ability to love other humans.

The attempt to be in a loving partnership with another, to truly support them in their personal path to self-love and self-actualization, to stand in the truth of who they really are and do everything you can to show compassion, acceptance, tenderness, and fierceness for that person is one of the most incredible experiences we get to have as human beings. It also one of the most painful, challenging, confusing, and irrational experiences we can have as human beings.

Trying to find the ‘right person’, or just trying to navigate how to have a sustained, healthy, loving relationship with someone else is one of the biggest mysteries of life. What it means for you to be with the ‘right’ person could never be defined by an external source. But it is essential that the lessons of self-love be applied for loving relationships to flourish. The most important thing to remember is that there is no one that can love you the exact way you deserve to be loved other than you.

There is limitless and divine and effortless love available for you to feel at all times but it will always be a personal struggle to allow this love to be felt. To feel this love is the responsibility of no one else except you. No one else can make you feel it. When we make it our partner’s job to make us feel lovable or loved, they will certainly fail, and eventually the relationship will fail. If we want our relationships to work, we must love ourselves.  

The reality is, we will never be fully capable of loving someone else unless we love ourselves. If we don’t have love and acceptance for the way that we are, there’s no way we could feel that kind of love for our partners. Instead, we believe that they must fulfill some idea of ‘how our partners should be’. We select partners based on this narcissistic criteria, instead of choosing with our wild, irrational hearts. We expect them to dress a certain way, have a certain amount of money, a certain kind of job, and a certain way of interacting with others or a certain way of communicating with us. We think if we have partners that fulfill these expectations, we will feel loved and we will be lovable.

Of course, by demanding certain attributes of our partners, we fail to accept them for precisely who they are, and thus we fail to experience true love. Our partners, by the same token, may have the same expectations of us. In fact, many people remain quite satisfied in relationships like these because they reflect the shallow illusion that many equate with reality. These kinds of relationships do not demand vulnerability, or even true feeling, because they are built on the same elaborate mind game that convinces us if we act a certain way, or have a certain kind of job, etc, we will be someday feel fulfilled and satisfied.

In order to use relationship as a platform to deepen our experience of love, we must understand there is a distinction between our desire to love another and our actual ability to do so. We must come to see the failures and conflicts we’ve experienced in relationship as reflections not of some problem in the other person, or our error in choosing that person, but reflections of some failure we have had in deeply loving ourselves. If all of your break ups or conflicts with others are the other person’s fault, think again. Own your part. If you can’t figure out your part, ask someone you trust, and then, listen. 

It’s not that the other person is always innocent. Rather, it’s that we can never truly know what a person is feeling or what motivates them, and we can never change them. We can only fully understand and control ourselves. Set the example and “be the bigger person”. Admit that you are flawed. Be vulnerable. Don’t do it for the other person, do it for yourself so you can grow. Admitting that you’ve done wrong and knowing that you are still ‘ok’ is one of the most powerful ways to love yourself. Admitting that you’ve done wrong and you are still truly and fundamentally lovable is even better.

“Loving” other people so that you feel loved or lovable doesn’t work. It has a nice outer covering, but it is actually manipulative. True loving is unconditional. We cannot love for any external motivation, not even if that motivation is to feel loved. To truly love others, you must love yourself, and acknowledge that no one can be loved better by you than they can be loved by themselves. If you allow others to be dependent upon your love instead of feeling love for themselves, you cripple and manipulate that person.

Despite deep experiences of love in romantic relationships, many people eventually fail at sustaining these experiences and the relationships fail in some way or another. Relationships can fail quietly over long periods of time, remaining intact to any outside observers but actually rotting from the inside out. Or they can fail in spectacularly dramatic, painful, and hurtful ways. However it happens, the occasion of a relationship where love is no longer being equally exchanged the way it once was is often very painful. Thus, it is a terrific learning experience and opportunity. It is not a reflection of some reality that you are not lovable or not capable of loving others appropriately. Instead, it can be understood as a chance to learn about the ways you can better love yourself. 

For more information about the one on one work I do, visit my website, 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

We Must Love Ourselves, Part 1

If we want the world to be a better place, we must love ourselves. I’m not saying that this is the only thing that needs to be done. I’m not even necessarily saying it is the most important thing. I think there are emergency situations around this planet, like the suffering of the incarcerated in the United States, like the world’s oceans and coral reefs, like the abuse of women in India and around the world, like torture, like drones, that need attention right now. There is so much to be done I would never deign to weigh one issue over the other. All I know is if we want to make a real change, at some point we are going to have to dive in head first to one of the hardest tasks in life. We must love ourselves.

I know that in the midst of all the suffering of the world the call from some damn woo-woo hippie like myself to feel the love might sound annoying. But to me it’s only annoying if I try to make it sound easy. I’m not trying to make it sound easy. If all we had to do is wake up in the morning, look ourselves in the mirror and say, “You’re the best! I love you!” and then our problems would be solved well then why do we have so many damn problems then?

We must love ourselves, and it is not an easy task. Actually, it is really fucking hard. If you don’t think it is hard, then you probably aren’t really trying to do it. The task of falling in love, deeper and deeper, with yourself and what you are capable of as a human on this planet never truly ends. It hurts like hell, makes no sense, and it is both infinite and terrifying. Everyday I set out to succeed in this task and everyday I fail in infinite ways, in ways I am aware of and in ways I have no clue about.

Why must we love ourselves? Well for one thing, when we don’t, we live out an illusion, an illusion that has very real effects on the world around us. This illusion could be called narcissism. Some people think narcissism is loving yourself “too much”. But really it is a complete absence of self-love. Narcissism contends that the central task in your life is to be the person you “should” be, or to be some idea of a person you have created in your mind, instead of just accepting yourself as you are.

Instead of loving yourself for precisely who you are, whatever you are, no matter what you do or how you have been treated, narcissists spend their whole lives focused on living out some set of self-concepts they decided a long time ago was ‘who they are’. This identity is usually tied to a lot of external, societal standards of appearance, opinions, values, assertions, and judgments. These factors, taken as a whole, can usually dictate what kind of jobs the person should take, what kind of partners they should have, and how much money they should make. This identity can be more or less unusual, tied to individual experiences, where and how you were raised, what you were taught, but to whatever extent it involves you not being in a state of acceptance and love for who you are right now, it is narcissistic. It is not about loving yourself, but rather a state of being enslaved to some idea about who you are or who you should be. 

When narcissists fail to achieve these standards they hate themselves, believe they are unworthy of love, and can act out negatively in a myriad of ways, mostly because they did not make the original commitment to truly love and accept themselves. When narcissists succeed in achieving these standards they feel pride, entitlement, perhaps some sense of satisfaction, but they still can not experience truly loving themselves in an unconditional way, because for them, love will always be conditional upon them succeeding to the standards they lay out for themselves.

Who we really are is so much more complicated and astounding and mysterious than any ideas we come up with about that person. It is not that we can’t know ourselves but rather the understanding that there is always more to know. To love ourselves is to understand we are living a life that is unfolding every moment in ways that we cannot imagine. To truly love ourselves is to understand that whatever we do, whatever has been done to us, whether we fail or whether we succeed, we are still, on a basic fundamental level, just because we are human beings on this earth, lovable. 

Needless to say, it can be confusing. How do we know when we are really loving ourselves, or just trying to live up to some idea of who we should be? Well, one clue is that feeling love can be one of the hardest things in the world. It burns like cleaning out a wound with hydrogen peroxide. It is startling and uncomfortable and incredibly vulnerable. It has the power to make everything you’ve made so important and argued for and lost friends over and feel like a huge lie. It has the power to make all those times you walked away or chose the safer thing or stayed silent so incredibly painful. From the perspective of loving yourself, all the things you did when you didn’t look very ugly, and it takes enormous courage to face into that. Love has no limits, and thus humbly reminds us of our own. 

For all of these reasons, and more, love feels almost exactly like pain. Really they are the same thing, seen in different ways. When we let ourselves feel our pain, we lose all of our defenses. We can no longer hide beneath the shells of our personalities and our ideas and our accomplishments and our assertions, because we are in pain, and thus we just are. And when we just are, we can feel love. The strain of the contradiction almost breaks our hearts but it is actually expanding them. This is the power of a good cry. This is why deep love brings tears to our eyes.

It’s good to keep in mind that there is illusory pain. A tip-off is that it has no energy, felt in the mind instead of in the body. Some names for it are self-hatred, nihilism, shame, embarrassment, guilt, anxiety and the like. It says you don’t matter, it says the world doesn’t matter, it says nothing matters. Or it says you will only matter if... you will only feel love if… It denies how difficult it is to feel love, it says there is something wrong with you because you don’t feel it. It says everything in your life is your responsibility, that it is all your fault. It denies how scary the truth is, that you have no real control over anything. It tells you that your individual version of true love, that version of love that you only let yourself fantasize about for brief moments long ago, is a total lie, that you will never get to have it. It convinces you by saying it is rational, realistic, practical. It gives you the illusion of control. It makes you doubt and judge everyone, because in thinking all of these things, you doubt and judge yourself. It is lonely, isolating, numbing, and persistent. It definitely sucks, but it is not the same as real pain.

Mostly because real pain doesn’t need a reason, doesn’t need to be explained, doesn’t need to be justified. It just needs to be felt. Pain is always the doorway to expanding our ability to feel love. This sounds like a contradiction, I know, and because it is a contradiction it is very difficult to explain. But just the mere fact that through enormous hardship and injustice and trauma individual humans still harbor the capacity to feel love for themselves and others demonstrates to me the enormity of what’s possible. It is in understanding that even in the darkest corner of our hearts there is still a way feel loved that we come to feel it in an even more visceral and intense way. It is this increased vitality feeling of purpose and joy that being loved by another person can give us that we always have the opportunity to give to ourselves. 

We must love ourselves. It is a challenge and it is a responsibility and a journey. But most of all, it is the most thrilling ride possible in life. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, Loving Ourselves Through Relationship 

Acknowledgments to my teachers at North of Eden, especially Marc Bregman. To learn more about the psychological/spiritual work I do, you can visit my website,

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Archetypal Dreamwork Website

Hello all, when I'm not failing to update this blog, I have a practice where I work with clients one-on-one doing Archetypal Dreamwork. If you'd like to learn more about this work, please visit my website,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Every Interaction Is A Social Interaction

What if we considered every interaction with another human being a social one? I was just thinking about how weird it is that the definition of my “social life” is purely the individuals that I choose to interact with, when and where I choose to do so.

This is how most people define social life, but it’s pretty arbitrary. What if we thought of social life as the parts of our lives when we are around others, period?

Considered this way, my usual confidence in the robustness of my social life falls flat. I realize for most of my day, I pretty consciously ignore people. I live in New Orleans, and my travels have shown me that there is perhaps no other city that can boast the same level of friendliness to strangers. It’s hard to take a walk without someone looking you in the eye and asking you about your day. I love this about my city and try to adopt the practice as much as I can, but even in a place that embraces neighborly interaction, I still fall short. I may say hi, how are you, I may even ask you about your garden or your dog or your work, but can I actually say you are my friend?

Not to mention when I have something that I need to get done, and a timeline to complete it in. Then, just about all of my effort at some kind of social exchange can fall to the wayside as my world closes in upon the task that needs to get done. Any external attempts by others to engage me socially I will very consciously thwart.

Day in and day out, I am not really looking to make friends except in circumstances that I have deemed acceptable times and places where friends can be made. If you are introduced to me by someone I already trust, perhaps we’ll connect and maybe after repeated meetings become friends. If I am near you at a party or a bar and we have a conversation that I feel comfortable with, maybe I will be friendly towards you if I see you again. Maybe if your work or some other activity you do is related to mine there is more of a chance that I’ll make an effort to connect with you. But maybe not.

I think I started realizing the narrowness of my own social life after spending weeks at Occupy NOLA last year. Suddenly I was in a diverse environment that spanned the spectrum of privileged organizers like me to people without homes who lived under the CCC bridge, and the real kicker was--we were all suppose to reach some kind of consensus about what we wanted the place to be like. Even though 20% of people in my state don’t have a high school diploma, I didn’t actually know anyone personally who didn’t have one. Compared with the make up of the city, I realized the make up of my friend group was way off in terms of race, income level, and many other factors.

I figured out one reason I don’t have a lot of these folks in my social circles: it’s hard. It’s hard to have genuine interactions with people when societal structures have made it so you meet each other on unequal terms. When you have money and someone else doesn’t, it's easy for you to feel taken advantage of, or just feel guilty about your own privilege, or be condescending. When you don't have money and someone else does, it's easy to feel resentful, disdainful, or just plain uncomfortable. When you’re educated and someone else isn’t, it takes effort honestly listen and respect the other person's ideas as equal to your own. Roles reversed, it's easy to feel intimidated and like your ideas don't matter.   When you’re from a privileged group and someone else has to deal with the daily reality of racism or discrimination, it’s easy for both parties to get offended, angry, and feel diminished as individuals.  

Beyond the social, it's just plain scary to trust people that are different than us. It isn't a pretty thing about humans, but it's true. Fear motivates so much of the disconnection we feel amongst ourselves. It is scary and vulnerable to trust.

So that’s probably why most people hang out with other people that are mostly like them. It’s a lot easier. It makes it easier to not worry about the social problems that surround us, it makes it easier to feel like there’s a big fat difference between people like you and everyone else. It makes it easier to feel confirmed and safe. It provides an atmosphere where you can feel confirmed in your own opinions, judgments, and ideas about how the world is and how you fit in it. Often these are the very ideas that form the bedrock of our own identities, and to be in social situations that challenge them are extremely uncomfortable. 

At the same time, for many people the bedrock of their identities is the social lives they have cultivated. We come to understand who we are through our connections with other people. But if we expand the definition of social life to include all of our interactions with other people, how often are we judgmental, dismissive, impatient, or downright abrasive? How often do we deny others the benefit of the doubt, how often do we refrain from showing kindness when we have the opportunity to do so? How often do we just straight up ignore the humanity of people around us because of our need to complete daily tasks or just because we don't feel up to it? 

If every interaction is a social interaction, how great are our social lives, really? And thus, what kind of people are we?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Blog

Hi everyone!

I've decided to start a new blog that focuses on the dreamwork that I have been practicing over the past few years. I hope you'll join me over there at the new site. This has been a great blog for me over the years. Thank you for reading and being so supportive of me.

It is called ZapalaSpeaks.